India vs Australia: Time for Rahane to rediscover the ‘Ajinkya’ in him
The name ‘Ajinkya’, of Sanskrit origin, means invincible or difficult to beat and it sat perfectly on the middle-order batsman - Rahane - who was Team India’s go-to player in Test cricket, whenever the team played in challenging conditions outside the sub-continent.
Rahane made his Test debut in the year 2013 after toiling for several years in the domestic circuit, where he amassed a mountain of runs for domestic giants Mumbai. He played just three Tests in 2013 and missed his maiden century by 4 runs at Durban in South Africa, where India went down after mounting a good fight.
His debut came at a time when the Indian Test team was going through a transitional phase. The batting stalwarts were bowing out one by one and India’s away form was at its worst, to say the least.
Rahane’s batting mirrored his quiet yet resolute personality and also his selfless nature. He was happy to don the role the team needed him to. His correct technique and wide array of shots quickly helped him carve a niche for himself in the middle order as he scored centuries in New Zealand, England and Australia. India lost all the three series, but found a batsman who could shoulder the burden in the middle.
The Mumbaikar scored 809 runs in 10 away Tests in 2014 at an average of nearly 45 and had three centuries and four half-centuries under his belt.
Rahane continued to blossom in away Test matches in the years that followed even though his form in home conditions left a lot to be desired. One of the highs was being named deputy to captain Virat Kohli in Test cricket and leading India to a famous win in the Dharamsala Test in Kohli’s absence, which gave the team a narrow win over the Aussies in 2017. But the low of losing his place in the limited overs side despite having a record that was better than many, who became part of a musical chair in the middle-order, sucked some of that ‘invincible’ spirit he had.
It reflected in his form in the longest format as his average came plummetting down in away Tests in 2018 even as India marched on to the top of the rankings and continues to be near and about. The year 2019 saw Rahane bounce back in Test cricket but India played most of their matches at home.
The (Covid-19) crippled calendar of 2020 shows the team in very poor light as they have lost all the three Tests they have played this year. A loss at Melbourne in the Boxing Day Test would mean India would for the first time end a calendar year, in which they have played three or more Tests, without a win.
For the team to try and avoid another low, Rahane, the stand-in captain, will have to search for the ‘Ajinkya’ within. He needs to dig deep in his reserves and bring out his true self, the fighter who never backs down.
The captain must lead by example and the first day at MCG is where Rahane needs to stamp his class on the contest. The team might be missing its best batsman, Virat Kohli, but in Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara it has a world class pair who can let their willows talk and subdue the opposition.
The time has come for the real Ajinkya Rahane to put his hand up and take this sinking ship to the shore.