As a storm of a different kind brews in the West Indies, with their bumbling officials now giving their T20 World Cup-winning captain Darren Sammy the boot, it is time to reflect on the Indian side of the story and talk about the understated Ajinkya Rahane and his calming influence on the team.
Rahane and his run-gathering methods have an old-school charm. In the T20 age, he stands for everything that a purist would admire, though his skills are not always guided by the rigid rule book of the traditionalists. He may have taken time to warm up to the shorter format, but has shown enough signs of innovation to prove that he can break the mould and still succeed.
For a batsman, who under MS Dhoni was not sure of his place in the shorter format and not trusted with Tests, his elevation to vice-captaincy for the Windies tour has come as a surprise. This is not a world meant for those who have a “nice guy” image. A soft face and eyes that convey calm more than anger are anachronistic traits for a sport that is rapidly evolving and keen to sever its ties from its traditional, patient past.
Virat Kohli is the new face of this brand of cricket and Indian selectors’ courage for giving space in decision-making to a staid, mellow character needs to be complimented.
Rahane has, unlike many products of the “instant” age, served a long apprenticeship in domestic cricket. To play domestic cricket for six years, before making Test debut is rare by Indian standards. When the debut, against Australia on a turning track in Delhi, turned into a disaster, signs were that Rahane lacked the temperament for the big stage.
Fortunately, that nervous fidgety short presence at the crease in his first two Test innings was an aberration and Rahane went on to prove he can be trusted when the pressure is on and his more senior colleagues are floundering around him. Centuries in New Zealand, Australia and England quickly erased that early impression of being a batsman with little faith in his ability. By scoring another hundred in the Jamaica Test, Rahane is only enhancing his reputation of being a run accumulator in overseas conditions, a not-so common trait in Indian batsmen.
It may help to have a coach in the team, who unlike Ravi Shastri, does not believe in the dictum “an eye for an eye”. Anil Kumble is a neat balance between believing in extreme aggression and offering the other cheek when slapped hard. Rahane still has a long way to go, though there is little doubt he could be the anchor every team so badly needs and perhaps a perfect antidote to Kohli’s aggressive ways.