Has Rahane run out of time?

Rahane has an impressive record in leading Team India, making him a good choice for the South African tour, but will his poor batting performance and threat from younger players be his undoing? Patriot takes a look

Ajinkya Rahane used to be called a calm and composed mind whose aggression was not like Virat Kohli with his gestures but was more aggressive when it came to field placement on the ground.

Who could forget that early 2021 last game Down Under against the formidable Australian side in Brisbane where Rahane got the better of them without regular skipper Kohli and their first-choice bowling attack? This will remain one of India’s greatest, if not the greatest, result in Test cricket history. 

Rahane was not just termed instrumental in leading a bunch of inexperienced players but was also called the leader who has better decision making power than many others seen in the past. To date he has won four out of the five Tests where he led the team. Rahane’s most recent game as leader was against New Zealand in Kanpur in November 2021, as Kohli had been rested. 

Less than a year later, the 33-year-old Rahane finds himself in complete isolation. Having lost his vice-captaincy to Rohit Sharma just before leaving for a South African safari, Rahane has no surety whether he will even retain his batting place in the middle. 

The newcomers like Shreyas Iyer or KL Rahul or Hanuma Bihari or even Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill, who could both be pushed down the order, have been putting pressure on selectors to take a call on Rahane’s future who has not been among runs for the last two season. Rahane has not scored a century since the 112 runs at Melbourne in December 2020. He has only managed to score two fifties in the following 22 innings. 

He failed to reach even a double-figure mark on eight occasions during this period. At home as well, Rahane’s poor record where he has only managed to hit a single century in the last five years has also not gone well in his favour.

 

No automatic starter in SA

Not many would disagree that Rahane’s Test career is in serious jeopardy. Considering his batting form in 2021 so far, he is averaging 19.57 in a calendar year, which is below par compared to his entire career. 

In fact, the 33-year-old Rahane has been in extremely poor form recently and in 2021 he has managed to score just 411 runs in 12 Tests. The sharp decline in his batting runs has been a major worry for all those who were seeing him as India’s next captain. Yes, Rahane had ended as India’s highest run-getter in the previous World Test Championship cycle. Most of the runs he scored were at No 5 position and that too in testing overseas conditions. 

The pressure started showing on the selectors who swiftly moved ahead to axe him from the team’s leadership responsibility. This has certainly made team management’s work easy if it wants to drop Rahane from the playing eleven at any given time during the tour of South Africa.

Going purely by batting form, Rahane will find it difficult to find a place in the first eleven of the upcoming three-Test series against South Africa starting Boxing Day on December 26 in Centurion. This is because Rahane was seen struggling with the bat in the recently-concluded series against New Zealand.

Having struggled with his batting for the past year, Ajinkya Rahane, position in the playing 11 for the SA tour might be in jeopardy PHOTO: Twitter

Shreyas Iyer, who made a fantastic debut with a ton and a half-century in the first two innings of the Kanpur Test, will retain his place in the squad, instead. Rahane, on the other hand, has toured the Rainbow nation twice before in his career in 2013 and later in 2018. In 2013, he came close to scoring a century in the second innings of the second Test at Durban before being dismissed for 96.

In 2018, he got to play just one out of the three Tests and contributed nine (9) and 48 in India’s 63–run victory over the home side in Johannesburg’s final Test. India lost the first two Tests in Cape Town and Durban. 

 

Who will be the understudy?

But just a couple of days before Team India was about to board the flight, BCCI came out with an injury update which forced Rohit to miss the entire Test series against South Africa. 

The situation has suddenly turned topsy-turvy for senior Indian selectors led by former pacer Chetan Sharma, who now have to either find a new replacement for Rohit or would be forced to go back to tried and tested Rahane once again. 

For purists, Rahane should be the ideal choice, not just because he has a proven track record as a stand-in skipper, but also because the players would need a leader with a cool and composed head on fast and bouncy South African tracks. 

Not to forget that Rahane successfully led India in the recent first Test against Kiwis in Kanpur, where only the last-wicket pair of Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel somehow secured a draw for the touring side. 

If that happens then Rahane will be a certainty in the playing eleven. And that is something, not a case keeping in view how his hamstring injury avoided Rahane the blushes in his hometown Mumbai Test recently. There could be two other senior contenders to take up this responsibility, if the selection committee decides to name a deputy to Kohli. Pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah is obviously the front runner because of his regular place in the playing eleven, while Ravichandran Ashwin, who has never been in Kohli’s favourite book, in recent years, could well be the other one.

Ideally, BCCI should look for a younger deputy who could be a long term option once senior pros go off the radar. And that’s why names like KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant are being discussed amongst the former cricketers. Considering how Rahane has unceremoniously been removed by selectors, there is a remote possibility that the Mumbaikar would again be reinstated to his old position.

A section of the BCCI believes that Rahul should be an automatic choice for the leadership role once the Kohli and Rohit era comes to an end. Not to forget that this was also the demand when five selectors met to decide in the aftermath of Kohli’s decision to quit the T20 captaincy after the World Cup in UAE. 

The next few days are extremely crucial for Rahane as Team India will be playing a full-fledged tour consisting of three Tests and three ODIs in South Africa, where it has never won a Test series to this date. 

The tour was earlier scheduled to begin on December 17 but had to be postponed due to the Omicron threat.

(Cover: Twitter.com)

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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