Pujara and Rahane - Two pillars of Indian Test team who are poles apart
Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara- right-handers; classical batsmen; the good boys in the team; pillars of the Indian Test team; compared often to Rahul Dravid; struggling to find a place in the limited-overs sides. There is a lot in common with the pair of them. But, the similarity ends there.
While both the batsmen made it to the Test side on the back of tons of runs in the domestic circuit, and have cemented their place in the Test team, they have had vastly different careers so far. And the numbers show that. Pujara averages 50.3; Rahane 43.2. Pujara scores a century every 7 innings; Rahane every 8.5 innings. One would say that all these numbers are above par. Especially, those of Pujara. But, I am not talking about these numbers.
In 62 Test innings in the Indian subcontinent, Pujara averages an astounding 65 and scores a century once every 4.8 innings. Tendulkar had one every 7. You don't want to run into ChePu under a blazing Asian sun, do you? In contrast, in 35 innings outside the comfort of that familiarity brings with it, he averages 27 with a solitary century in South Africa and none elsewhere. Did someone say Rahul Dravid?
Rahane, on the other hand, has been a mirror-image of the Saurashtrian. In 45 innings within the subcontinent, he averages 37 and scores a century every 9 innings. Mind you, he had two in the same Test once in Delhi. Remove those, and he scores one every 14.3 innings. Mediocre, one would rightly say.
Throw him into the deep end - onto the lands across seas that have haunted many great Indian batsmen of the past, and he averages a tad under 53 and knocks up a century every 7.8 innings. Compare that to Pujara's one in 35 outings. Impressive. Rahane has scores of 20 or less in 58% of his innings in the subcontinent, as compared to in 32% of his innings overseas.
It is almost as if they have an agreement between themselves that only one of them will fire at any given point. In 16 innings in which both have batted for India outside the subcontinent, they have had just 5 partnerships together, and none worth more than 37. Remember, these two are the batting mainstays of the World Number 1 Test team. Of course, they have a large Virat Kohli-sized barrier separating them, but Pujara has just not batted long enough for Rahane to join him, and when he has, he hasn't lasted much longer.
So, what ails these two gentlemen from the western part of the country? Maybe, the fact that they have such a poor record plays on their mind. This may bring in tentativeness in Pujara when he bats abroad, causing him to play at deliveries he might otherwise have left, and on Rahane when he plays at home, resulting in him prodding nervously at deliveries, unsure of his footwork. And conversely, a sound record relaxes Pujara at home, and Rahane abroad. Maybe. But that just can't be all, can it?
Pujara for one has often been criticised for batting with an angled bat, which though not an issue on the slow and low tracks at home, have caused him to be found out on swinging and bouncing conditions abroad. 26 times he has fallen to pacers overseas, as compared to 5 times to spinners. And half of these have been nicks into the waiting gloves of wicket-keepers.
But, things are a bit more perplexing with Rahane. After all, it was the runs he scored in the domestic circuit on these very tracks that saw him picked for the Indian team. The difference of 17.28 between his Away and Home average, is the fourth-largest ever. Only Mohinder Amarnath has had a starker difference among Indians.
Among all the Indian batsmen who have batted at least 30 times between Numbers 1 and 7 at home since 1985, only Nayan Mongia has had a poorer average than Rahane. So, what is it with Rahane?
That Rahane loves pace on the bat is no secret. And thus, his average falling against pace on the slow and low track homes is expected, but what is surprising are his struggles against spin at home. 68% of his dismissals in Asia have been to spin, with several of them caused by tentativeness early in the innings. As with the touring batsmen, the age-old adage applies to Rahane as well - if you can't play spin well, you are going to struggle in the subcontinent. Decisive footwork against spin would definitely be the key for Rahane.
Come the Test Series in England, both Pujara and Rahane will know that the clock is ticking for them. Rahane will be aware that he will have to continue to be India's Mr. Reliable overseas, much like his idol, Rahul Dravid, for he doesn't have the backing of runs at home and finds himself dropped from the white-ball teams as well. Pujara, meanwhile, will have to improve his credentials abroad. He is already suffering from being categorized as a Test specialist. A failure in England could now make it even more specific- a Home Test specialist. Too small a cohort for a batsman to build a successful career in.
Two different batsmen in a similar mould, fighting two very different battles- in their minds and on the field. Bring on England!