The most fascinating facet about sport is its sense of unpredictability, which is analogous to life in genera too. We have come across many examples in sport where a player or a side looked very ordinary to start with, but went on to write history and managed to inspire and motivate us.
On the other hand, we have also witnessed various cases where a player seemed like a prodigy, destined to reach those uncharted milestones which no one even could have dreamed of achieving. But as time passed by and the years rolled down, they seemed to have lost their way.
The career story of India’s vice-captain and Rajasthan Royals captain Ajinkya Rahane seems to be following the lines of the latter kind. He is stuck in a vicious circle of poor performances and inconsistent form, and it is unclear how he will find his way back.
For this Mumbai lad, who made his international debut way back in 2011 in England, life had come a full circle when he batted alongside his idol Rahul Dravid, opening the batting for Rajasthan Royals. He had a sensational IPL season in 2012 before eventually making his Test match debut against Australia in March 2013.
The world seemed to be at his feet and at the age of 24, his batting style and fluent technique indicated that he was a special talent, destined for something spectacular.
Back then, the first thing that struck your mind when you saw Rahane was his gorgeous technique and a batting style that looked organic, elegant, serene and most importantly, pleasing to the eye. In an era where people look to hit the ball as hard as they can, Rahane is a sweet timer of the ball. That, coupled with his innate ability to score tough runs under the most testing conditions, established his stature as a special player.
But just as in life, in sport too the harsh reality in the form of poor performances is bound to hit you at some point or another; no one is an exception in this regard. It is what you do when life hits you hard that defines you - not only as a player but also as a person. And right now Rahane seems to have no answers whatsoever to many of the tough questions that are being thrown at him by bowlers, team management, situations and last but not the least, his own performances.
Rahane's career so far can be divided into two halves - the first half that begins with his Test debut culminates in October 2016 at the end of series against New Zealand at home, and everything from then till date can be considered as a second half. These two halves stand in stark contrast to each other.
While first half revolved around Rahane’s meteoric rise, the second half depicts an agonizing fall for India’s Test match vice-captain.
Let’s look at the stories of these two contrasting halves.
March 2013 - October 2016: Rahane’s rise to India’s Mr. Dependable
During a time when India struggled to put runs together in overseas Tests and subsequently kept losing in away conditions, Rahane’s batting - especially in England, New Zealand and South Africa - was a breath of fresh air that Team India desperately needed.
While the players around him struggled for runs, Rahane made batting look ridiculously easy away from home. One of his traits that left us in awe was his ability to bat under mighty crucial scenarios, when the fortunes of his side literally rested on a knife’s edge.
The tougher the conditions become, the better he batted. Be it his maiden Test hundred at Wellington in 2014 or his lone battle of 96 at Durban in 2013, or his classic Lord’s ton in 2014 on a treacherous pitch, Rahane constantly displayed temperament of the highest order. Always polite and humble by nature, he let the bat and the numbers do the talking.
During this period, Rahane amassed 2209 runs in 29 Test matches with 8 hundreds at an average of 51.4, became India’s Test match vice-captain and also represented India at the 2015 World Cup.
Rahane made a reputation for himself as being India’s run-machine away from home, to go along with many other accolades during this time-period. He scored significantly more runs than the rest, and it appeared he could simply do no wrong.
November 2016 - present: Rahane’s agonizing fall
After a brilliant three and a half years at the international level, Rahane looked poised in his journey towards superstardom. That's when runs and form suddenly deserted him like a natural calamity hitting an unfortunate neighbourhood.
It all started in a Test series against England in November-December 2016 at home. Just a solitary hundred in Tests post 2016 and a meagre 1279 runs at a disappointing average of 29 are good enough to understand the gravity of the issue.
Being excluded from India’s upcoming World Cup campaign and being kicked out of India’s limited overs set-up for a while now are alarming signs for a batsman of Rahane’s caliber and potential.
His own decision as the captain of RR to demote himself to No. 4 position in their recently concluded tie against Kings XI Punjab makes us wonder what is going on in his mind. Is he in denial about his loss of form, as pointed out by Sanjay Manjrekar?
Whatever the reason may be, it is sad to see a player of Rahane’s ability gradually fade away.
Champions always show resilience and will to bounce back from tough situations. It remains to be seen how Rahane copes with all this misery that has been surrounding his game for quite some time now.