India, the No 1 ranked Test side in the world recently completed 1-0 win over Sri Lanka and will face South Africa early next year for three-match Test series. Men in blue under the captaincy of Virat Kohli has played really good cricket in the last two and a half years and would like to keep the momentum going. The team has gelled well and also the core of the team has remained intact and the upcoming challenge of South Africa will determine whether this team can win overseas too or the normal practice will resume.
India’s vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane is currently going through a difficult phase and has been short of runs in the longest format of the game (Test cricket) for quite some time. In the recently concluded series against Islanders, Rahane could only muster 17 runs in five innings and watching him bat looking from a distance didn’t give any confidence and Rahane himself would have been wondering where his next run is coming from. The recent ordeals has put a question mark over Rahane’s career and the tour of SA might prove to be toughest for Rahane.
Rahane made his Test debut against Australia at Delhi in 2013 and was part of the side that whitewashed Australia 4-0, but on a personal level, Rahane could only score eight runs across both innings. The turning point for Rahane came during India’s overseas cycle and out of nowhere Rahane marked his authority and scored three centuries across 13 matches against South Africa (96, Durban), New Zealand (118, Wellington), England (103, Lord’s) and Australia (147, Melbourne). India after a long time had a player who could score runs in alien conditions and Rahane’s work ethic and preparation impressed the captain and Rahane became an integral cog in India’s batting line up.
Rahane proved that he could hold his own against high-class pace bowling on bouncy pitches and even outplayed Virat Kohli on 2014 tour of England and Wales. The game and technique of Mumbaikar is simple and since his teens Rahane has been a heavy run scorer and had to wait for a long time before he wore India jersey and out of his nine Test centuries, six have come outside the comfort of home conditions and strangely averages more in overseas conditions (53.44) as compared to while playing at home (33.63).
One of the reasons for Rahane’s dismal form could be attributed to the excessive amount of one-day and T20 cricket. Rahane has been in fine form in limited-overs matches but has struggled to remain consistent in the five-day format. Another issue with Rahane’s batting is his discomfort against spin and all his life Rahane had batted in the top order for Mumbai, but while playing for India Rahane has generally batted in the middle-order. Indian team’s batting line-up is settled and pressure will be on Rahane to find some form and knowing the man he will leave no stone unturned and the big score might be around the corner if rub of the green goes India’s vice-captain’s way and India needs a fit and firing Rahane to be the pillar in foreign conditions.
Every sportsperson goes through a tough time and Rahane is no different and at the moment Rahane’s game looks out of sorts. The vice-captain of the Test team has to go back to basics and do the little things right to turn the corner. Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri fully back Rahane and in South Africa against the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Rahane will have to dig in to score runs and if he settles in than Rahane can again rediscover his touch and going by the past records it won’t be a surprise if Rahane silences his critics through his willow.