Is Ajinkya Rahane slowly becoming a liability in home Tests?

Can Ajinkya Rahane turn things around for himself?

Ajinkya Rahane produced a sensational hundred against Australia on Boxing Day

Ajinkya Rahane has struggled for runs in home conditions recently

Ravindra Jadeja has been impressive with the willow

In the Boxing Day Test at the MCG in 2020, Ajinkya Rahane faced the unenviable prospect of digging India out of the 36-run shaped hole that they’d dug for themselves at Adelaide. Funnily enough, he had to do so not just as a batsman but also as the captain of a side that had plunged towards its steepest nadir, days prior.

Thus, the odds seemed to be stacked against Ajinkya Rahane, considering that the Australians had smelt blood and intended to ground the Indians into submission. Yet, at that juncture, the Delhi Capitals batsman produced a fightback of historic proportions, notching up a stupendous first-innings ton, which paved the way for a remarkable series triumph.

Consequently, a major chunk of the cricketing fraternity was effusive in its praise for Ajinkya Rahane and to be fair, that bit of adulation wasn’t too dumbfounded either. In fact, plenty even suggested that the right-handed batsman, who has endured an indifferent run of form lately, had turned a corner and was en route to becoming more consistent.

However, since then, Ajinkya Rahane has failed to notch up any notable innings – something that hasn’t only brought his spot in the team under the scanner, but also raised doubts as to whether that classic at the MCG was the anomaly, rather than hinting at a brighter and a better normal.

To put things into perspective, Ajinkya Rahane’s barren patch seems to have continued for quite a while. As far as stats are concerned, Ajinkya Rahane has averaged more than 40 only once (71.33 in 2019) in Test cricket since 2017.

In other years, that average has dwindled to 34.62, 30.66, 38.85 and 17.60 in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021 respectively. In blunt terms, he has produced numbers that just aren’t befitting of a batsman who can be relied upon.

However, the aforementioned statistics become more damning when talking about his record in home conditions, which in crude words, has become pretty wretched, over the past few years.

Since November 2016, he has batted 29 times in home conditions. Alarmingly, his average dips to 32.33 during that phase, with Ajinkya Rahane only scoring a solitary ton, which incidentally, was against a South African bowling attack that was out on its feet.

Apart from the aforementioned knock, he has six fifty-plus scores, of which only two have come against SENA countries. The rest, unsurprisingly, have been scored against Bangladesh and West Indies.

Though the Tigers and the Caribbean outfit have enough quality to cause the odd flutter, one can’t put them in the same bracket as some of the other top-drawer Test teams in world cricket.

The more worrying facet though, is that Ajinkya Rahane, during that particular tenure, has almost always found ways to get out, despite looking established at the crease – an aspect that is a cardinal sin on Indian tracks.

On numerous occasions, Ajinkya Rahane has been out ‘caught’, when trying to push and prod at deliveries that ought to be left alone or attacked with more conviction. In other words, he often finds himself in no man’s land, as far as his shot selection is concerned.

Subsequently, he seems to offer the fielding side chances to get him out. On days when he gets away with those iffy moments, he goes onto bag a notable score. Yet, in the international arena, which is pretty unforgiving, it isn’t a ploy that leads to constant success.

In fact, even against England in the first innings at Chennai, Ajinkya Rahane lobbed up a full toss in the general direction of Joe Root at extra cover. Though the English skipper did extremely well to pluck the catch out of thin air, such a mistake was unacceptable, especially when the surface had started playing tricks.

Furthermore, Ajinkya Rahane has a tendency to pull a special rabbit out of the hat, once in a while, meaning that he regularly escapes the glare of the public eye.

Though those knocks are pretty extraordinary, the frequency certainly leaves a lot to be desired, not just because the batsman has the talent to justify the expectation, but also because it is imperative that India has a dependable batsman at No.5, when playing with five bowlers.

Contextually speaking, the shortest span between two Test centuries for Ajinkya Rahane, since 2017, has been 6 innings, which came between his 102 against the West Indies in August 2019 and his 115 against South Africa at Ranchi in 2019.

The last time he had crossed the 100-run mark, before the essay against West Indies, was way back in August 2017, against Sri Lanka at Colombo. Between those two tons, he played 28 innings, and only registered 5 scores above fifty.

Thus, highlighting that he hasn’t been a batsman that India have been able to bank upon – an element that has led to the Men In Blue hedging their bets and looking for bowlers who can wield the willow, in order to offset the shortcomings of their primary middle order batsman.

Additionally, during the phase when Ajinkya Rahane’s runs have dried up, the rest of the lower order has stood up to be counted, especially in India – again, something that hints towards the batsman’s deficiencies being masked by those around him.

To put things into perspective, in home Tests since 2016, Ajinkya Rahane has scored 1219 runs in 35 innings, at an average of 38.09. In contrast, during the same period, Ravindra Jadeja has scored 1000 runs in 33 innings, at an excellent average of 47.61.

And, though the all-rounder’s average might seem a tad inflated, due to the number of unbeaten essays, Ajinkya Rahane’s average has also primarily spiked up due to the runs he has scored against Bangladesh and the West Indies.

When talking about runs against Australia and England, Ajinkya Rahane has managed 261 across 13 innings, at an average of 21.83. Ravindra Jadeja, on the other hand, has tallied 351 runs at an average of 31.90. Hence, underlining that the latter’s astounding form has perhaps papered over the fissures that Ajinkya Rahane has created.

Thus, at this moment, it seems that Ajinkya Rahane has hit a brick wall, as far as his fortunes in India are concerned. The right-hander isn’t only not scoring runs, but he is also getting out in the most tepid of manners, meaning that the batting line-up, which has been too dependent on Messrs. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, seems to struggle whenever the pair departs cheaply.

Most tellingly though, it has forced India to opt for bowlers that can also bat, instead of just preferring bowlers that accord them the greatest chance to take 20 wickets in an encounter.

Though that particular tactic has unearthed a couple of gems, the likes of Kuldeep Yadav and at times, Ravichandran Ashwin have suffered, for India are just not confident enough that their middle order would churn out the requisite runs.

Having said that, Ajinkya Rahane still represents one of the Men In Blue’s most adroit options overseas and it might not be prudent to completely dismiss him into oblivion. Yet, one can’t ignore his discernible lack of runs and the significant burden it places on the rest of the team and its balance.

A month or so ago, when confronted with an almighty mountain, Ajinkya Rahane portrayed the wherewithal to trust his methods and produce an innings that will live long in memory. However, it is perhaps time that India doesn’t make the mistake of letting him rest on his laurels and wait for a similar knock, for that is a luxury that the team simply can’t afford.

And, rather ironically, a couple of fortnights after his emerging from the rubble to attain his highest crescendo as a skipper, he seems to have spaded an even greater crater for Ajinkya Rahane – the batsman.

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