The wait may soon be over for Rahane
It was on the recent tour of Australia when Ajinkya Rahane first made it to the Indian Test squad. Being a prolific top order batsman for Mumbai, he was considered as a backup for both middle order and opening slots and it seemed only a matter of time before he got his Indian Test cap.
Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide – in each of the four Tests, India’s batting kept failing during the tour but the think tank persisted with the same set of batsmen. Rahane along with his Mumbai teammate Rohit Sharma kept the benches warm and were limited to drinks duty as India endured its second overseas whitewash within a year.
The Indian team has gone through a sea of changes on the batting front since that wretched tour of Australia. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have called it a day. The Delhi opening duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, after a prolonged lean run, were shown the door by the selectors. But along with Sachin Tendulkar, the only other constant in the Indian batting scheme in the last year or so has been the presence of Rahane on the bench.
In the home series against New Zealand and England, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh were given a second go (or was it the third?) Along with experience, their ability to contribute with the ball gave the two left-handers the nod ahead of Rahane. The move was understandable but the decision to not release Rahane for Ranji Trophy during the two Test series was baffling. Instead of continuing his good work in the domestic circuit and making his case stronger for a spot in the playing XI, he continued to carry drinks for the Indian team.
India, after losses in Mumbai and Kolkata, was on the verge of a damning home series loss to England before the Nagpur Test. Yuvraj was dropped from the squad and conventional wisdom prevailied, as the time had come for Rahane. But Ravindra Jadeja, on the back of two triple centuries and some accurate left arm spin, got to make his debut as India went in with four spinners in the match.
Jadeja’s performance with the bat was below par (with those triple centuries he had set the standard too high for himself) but as India’s batsmen slowly got their form back, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided that going with five bowlers is the way forward in Indian conditions. The only vacant lower middle order slot, at least for this season, was sealed.
The attention shifted to the troublesome opening slots as Sehwag followed Gambhir into wilderness. So Rahane was to be drafted into the side as an opener, was the general consensus. But the selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil selected Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan as the openers based on their show in the Irani Trophy (in the same game Rahane scored a polished 83) and categorically stated that Rahane is in the squad as a reserve middle-order batsman.
Again from the sidelines, the Mumbai batsman saw Murali Vijay virtually cement his place with superb centuries in Hyderabad and Mohali, cheered Dhawan as he got his Test cap from Tendulkar and carried the drinks as Vijay and Dhawan forced the Aussies into submission in the last two sessions on the third day of the third test.
Yet another season comes to an end and the talented youngster is yet to be given a chance to fail even, any Rahane sympathizer would have thought on the fourth evening of the Mohali Test. But as the Indian team completed another win to take a 3-0 lead in the Border-Gavaskar trophy in the last hour of the fifth day, news about Dhawan’s injury slowly filtered in. After the man of the match performance, the left-hander might have to sit out the Delhi test due to an injury to his knuckles.
Going by the accounts of his teammates, Rahane seems to be a team man to the core. But after the ordeal he has gone through in the last 15 months, he may be forgiven to have let out a small prayer wishing that Dhawan’s condition doesn’t improve.
Fate has been cruel to him in recent times and this might just be the slice of luck he needed. Come 22nd March, India will look to complete a rare whitewash and, despite being given the portfolio of a middle-order batsman, Rahane might make his debut as an opener at a time when the Indian openers are making merry.