It's do or die for Ajinkya Rahane
It is the third Test between India and South Africa and India are 2-nil down in the series. Vijay gets out at the stroke of lunch and in comes an under pressure Ajinkya Rahane making a comeback into the side. His captain had remarked a week before that no one thought he should be in the XI.
In the blink of an eye, Kohli was out too and India was 134-5 heading towards another defeat. A weak hearted player would have let the pressure get to him, but not Rahane. On an up and down pitch where play stopped multiple times to check if it was safe enough to continue playing, Rahane counterattacked.
Within 10 balls of Kohli's dismissal, he had pumped a drive on the up to the cover boundary, creamed an air-borne on-drive for 4 and pushed South Africa on the back foot. Before South Africa knew it, Rahane had stitched together a partnership of 55 with Bhuvneshwar and India won the match by 63 runs.
It seemed Rahane had sealed his spot in the Indian XI for the foreseeable future. He once again played an important role in the only win against England, scoring a valuable 81 at Nottingham. His gritty 51 at Southampton in 4th Test in a 101 run partnership with Kohli had India within touching distance of the target of 245 runs.
Yet, he finds himself starting one of the more important series of his career in Rajkot. Although Rahane has been able to score runs at important times, his lack of consistency has been disappointing. He averaged a meagre 25 in comparison to Kohli's 59 and Pujara's 39 in England.
With an experience of 40 odd Tests behind him and this being the second overseas cycle in his career, Rahane was supposed to assert dominance on world cricket. But, he failed to deliver consistently and finds Hanuma Vihari, Karun Nair and Rohit Sharma breathing down his neck for the number 5 spot in Australia.
If he fails to perform versus Windies, he will have to undergo the hard grind of domestic cricket again to get his place back in the squad. Back in 2014 after his match-winning 100 at Lord's, not many would have predicted this state of Rahane's career. After 50 Tests, he's averaging a mild 40 in his career, a figure not expected from the number 5 of the team not long ago known for batting oppositions out of the match.
Another peculiarity of Rahane that boggles many is his home-away record. He averages 46 away as compared to the measly 32 at home. For reference, Kohli averages 47 in overseas conditions, just one run more than Rahane but a mind-boggling 63 at home. Home Series have historically been looked as chances for Indian batsmen to seal their spots in the XI. But with his career on the line, Rahane would have rather had this series be in Windies than in India where he has been able to score only 3 centuries in his whole career.
Under previous team management, Rahane might have still started in the first XI in Australia but he and Pujara have been dropped for much less in South Africa and England respectively under the regime of Kohli and Shastri. Whether that is good or not for the Indian team is an entirely different discussion, but there's no doubting it's do or die for Rahane against Windies.