Perfect team man, Ajinkya Rahane gets overdue spotlight

Shamik Chakrabarty
Ajinkya Rahane scored 115 runs from 192 deliveries (Source: AP)

In April this year, Ajinkya Rahane joined Hampshire in the County Championship. The MSK Prasad-led selection committee didn’t pick him for the World Cup and the Mumbai batsman decided to take a punt on English first-class cricket.

Both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma, and also Ravi Ashwin, benefitted from their county stints. Rahane, on his return from England, spoke about how his time with Hampshire helped him reconstruct his game – keeping things simple, reading the line and playing late. He looked a different player in the first Test in the West Indies. The apparent fear of failure, which made his footwork iffy, was gone. He once again started to bat with intent.

In that game at North Sound, Rahane made 81 and 102. He scored 64 not out in the second innings of the second Test in Kingston. The century at North Sound was his first in Test cricket in two years. Now he has two hundreds in consecutive series, his 115 against South Africa on Sunday being the latest.

He now has 11 Test centuries and this was one of his better knocks. At 39/3 on the first day, his positivity right from the outset helped India wrest the initiative. In tough conditions and against Kagiso Rabada’s top-class fast bowling, even Rohit Sharma was struggling initially. Rahane decided to take the attack to the opposition. His first 40 runs came off just 43 deliveries. The momentum started to swing. His attacking intent eventually trickled down to Rohit, who gradually became the senior partner in a 267-run fourth wicket stand.

Rahane is a better player when the team is under the pump. In the first innings at North Sound, he held the innings together and took the total towards respectability from 25/3. Here also, India were in strife on the first morning. At 300/3 for example, Rahane somehow finds it difficult to hit his straps.

“The top order was in very good form, which was very good for the Indian team. He (Rahane) still contributed to the team, although he didn’t get hundreds. And No. 5 is basically such a tricky slot, because sometimes you go (to bat) after 50-60 overs. The ball is so soft then, it’s not easy to go and time the ball. His (Rahane) game is timing-based. He needs that pace and hardness of the ball. His mindset is exactly the same, but at 39/3 the ball was hard. So he got value for his shots,” former India middle-order batsman Pravin Amre, who has been Rahane’s personal coach for the last couple of years, told The Indian Express.

“Everything became smooth after that hundred in the West Indies. That was a really, really crucial hundred of his career,” he added.

Awry footwork

Amre admitted that Rahane’s footwork had gone a bit awry because he was looking over his shoulder. “He is human. When your place in the squad is on your head (uncertain), you will be a totally different player. He was dropped from the team in South Africa. It’s a different ball game. We worked on his footwork and bat speed,” Amre explained.

Coming back to the game, the two players from the Mumbai maidans all but took the game away from the Saffers and Rohit was the first to admit Rahane’s impact. “Once we went there after lunch (on the first day), it was Ajinkya who started taking that momentum. If I’m not wrong, he was batting on 40 off 43 balls just around the first drinks break after lunch, which means he capitalised on the loose balls.

“The rotation of strike was happening every now and then. We did that pretty well, particularly Ajinkya. He came out and started playing shots. From there, he never looked back. Our partnership after that kept growing,” Rohit said after the day’s play on Sunday.

On the second morning, resuming at 83, Rahane played a gorgeous cover drive against Anrich Nortje in the second over of the day. An extra-cover drive against Rabada that took him into the nineties was even better. Even on 96, he didn’t hesitate to play a square cut, when Lungi Ngidi offered width outside off-stump. A single off Nortje took him to his first hundred in India since 2016.

The perfect team man, Rahane never complained. He rather enjoyed his team-mates’ successes. “Time has come now that people will enjoy his success,” Amre said.