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India in need of a Rahane step-up

It’s the era of memes. And Virat Kohli‘s knocks provided social media with enough to batter the platforms with many. Virat Kohli is Amitabh Bachchan, carrying the rest of the Indian team on his head and shoulders. Kohli is India’s fab five. He is Jon Snow ready to take on an entire cavalry by himself. He is Bahubali, carrying the team. He is Superman. He is Vadivelu, the Tamil comedian. Kohli is everywhere, and after such a performance it’s no surprise why.

But the other constant in the memes were the rest of the top order. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Ajinkya RahaneAjinkya Rahane – the team’s vice captain, the vital link between top and lower order, the overseas specialist.

He may have been one of many in the match to not have succeeded with the bat, but it was the manner in which he got out that was more worrisome. In the first innings, Rahane started off as everyone expected Rahane to. He played late, defended right under his eyes and brought a sense of calm after Sam Curran’s terrific three-wicket burst had brought India to its knees. He looked to have gotten the hang of things early into his innings. He played for Curran’s inswingers, and even spotted the ones that were angled away and safely let them pass.

It was only when Ben Stokes was introduced into the attack that Rahane’s rhythm and surety decided to desert him and take a walk instead. He was surprised by the one that came in rapidly, further exaggerated by Stokes’s angle and tilt while bowling, and was lucky to survive. Rahane was all over the place after. He started poking outside off, inside edging the ones that came back in and got into awkward positions when Stokes bowled short. 14 consecutive deliveries from Stokes later, Rahane got his first runs – an edge past slip. Off the next ball, he wafted outside off and was caught at third slip. It was a ball, Rahane wouldn’t have usually played at even if he was batting on 140. But pressure does funny things.

Rahane’s second innings needs a one-word sum up – tentativeness. 16 balls, 2 runs, out inside-edging a wide delivery when the situation screamed for someone to apply himself and give Kohli company.

It certainly hasn’t been the Rahane Indian cricket fans have gotten used to. Only last year, Virat Kohli had spoken about how Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, in his opinion, were India’s two best Test batsmen. That was immediately after he made an attacking hundred on a dry SSC track against Sri Lanka. Since then, Rahane’s top score has been 48. Pujara, on the other hand, finds himself outside the team.


Rahane since his last hundred:

v Sri Lanka at Pallekele – 17

v Sri Lanka at Kolkata – 4 & 0

v Sri Lanka at Nagpur – 2

v Sri Lanka at Delhi – 1 & 10

v South Africa at Johannesburg – 9 & 48

v Afghanistan at Bengaluru – 10

v England at Edgbaston – 15 & 2


It hasn’t helped that Rahane’s position in the team comes with some lack of clarity too. Since the Australia series in India early last year, the right-hander seems to have taken a more attacking approach to his batting. He’s been out trying to play more attacking shots, than being beaten by the bowler – edging cover drives, cutting or missing leg-side flicks. That he was dropped from India’s squad for the two Tests in South Africa, which came as a massive surprise, could have messed up his headspace as well.

Rahane’s plight has been masked by someone else in the team doing well. In six of those seven games that he’s failed, at least one other Indian has gone on to make a hundred. But seeing India’s batsmen fall like a house of cards in Edgbaston brings Rahane’s struggles back into light.

That India need Rahane at the top of his game is certain. In away games that India’s not lost, Rahane’s impact for the side has been telling. For anyone who has played at least 15 such games, Rahane’s average is fourth-best for India, only behind Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Mohinder Amarnath. He has six hundreds and three fifties for India in such games. In away wins too, Rahane features heavily, with an average of 51 and three hundreds.

But just apart from the runs, Rahane plays a vital role in the middle-order. Capable of both attacking and playing with caution, he is someone India have learnt to fall back on for various situations. His hundred at Lord’s in 2014 showed how he could arrest a slide and play with the tail to give India a sniff back into the game.

For a batting order that is not the best against swing and seam, Rahane will be counted upon to play that role time and again. The tail, lower-order batsmen, as Ishant Sharma said they are now referred to as, has already showed that it will play an important role in the outcome of games, and it needs someone like Rahane to guide them at the other end.

Virat Kohli did it with aplomb in Edgbaston, but he, even he, cannot do it every game. India will need Rahane to shed his inhibition, and soon. Otherwise, we could just be seeing a lot more of those Virat Kohli memes. And a lot more Indian collapses.

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