The Inconsistent Brilliance of Ajinkya Rahane

As India compile a handy first innings total on day one of the second Test, Srinivas looks at the career of Ajinkya Rahane – a quality player who hasn’t always lived up to expectations. Feel free to comment on today’s play in the comments too. 

There is a lot to like about Ajinkya Rahane. A watchable batsman and an aggressive captain, he does not feel – which is a relief – that his mouth has a whole lot of work to do on the cricket field. His calm leadership and his tide-turning 112 at the MCG during the recently concluded Test series between India and Australia have received a lot of praise from various quarters, and rightly so. As a Rahane fan, though, I am frustrated that the series turned out to be yet another ordinary one for him as a batsman, his second highest score in it being 42.

To anyone who has followed Rahane, the batsman, closely, the fact that his one brilliant century in Australia was beset by a number of insubstantial scores should not have come as a surprise. Rather, it instantiated yet again the kind of inconsistent brilliance that has characterised – and plagued – his Test career thus far.

In 2014, when India won a Test for the first time at Lord’s in many a long year, it was on the back of a sparkling rearguard century in the first innings from Rahane. After that century, however, Rahane’s returns with the bat dwindled even as his team’s performance declined, allowing a fine England side to turn around a 1-0 deficit into a remarkable 3-1 victory.

A few months after the tour of England, India travelled to Australia, where Rahane followed up an impressive 81 in the second Test in Brisbane with a belligerent 147 in the third Test in Melbourne, during which he flat-batted Mitchell Johnson to distraction in a counterattack for the ages. Once again, though, there wasn’t any other score of note from Rahane’s bat during the series.

More recently, Rahane broke a prolonged drought of seventeen Tests without a century by scoring 102 against the West Indies in North Sound in 2019. Between this three-figure score and the MCG 112 mentioned earlier, however, Rahane made just one hundred against South Africa at home, his 115 overshadowed by Rohit Sharma’s 212 in the same innings. Rahane’s problem, to put it in terms of crude numbers, is that only once has he made more than one century in a Test series – when he made hundreds in both innings against South Africa on a Delhi dustbowl in 2015.

Ironically, those brilliant twin hundreds throw into sharp relief the second problem with Rahane’s Test career: his record in India, which may be called unimpressive merely out of politeness. His average of 39.24 at home in fact appears poorer than it is when seen alongside the home averages of Virat Kohli (68.42), Cheteshwar Pujara (59.84) and Rohit Sharma (88.33), his three closest contemporaries in terms of age and experience. Even Ravindra Jadeja, India’s preferred spin-bowling all-rounder in recent times, averages 38 with the bat in India!

Rahane’s underwhelming returns at home may be partly explained by the view that he plays more ‘not in control’ shots early in an innings than most top-order batsmen. That, combined with the fact that he is shaky against spin in the early part of his innings, is arguably a recipe for failure on typical Indian wickets. The fact that Rahane’s overall average still stands at a respectable 42-plus is therefore a testament to his consistency abroad. In fact, among the current Indian batsmen, his overseas average of 44.44 is second only to the 51.80 boasted by Shubman Gill, who has played just three (albeit tough) Tests.

For his own sake, however, Rahane must get his act together at home immediately, because in a country that turns out fine fair-weather batsmen as a matter of course, his mediocre home record cannot be ignored forever. He also owes it to his team management which, despite being notorious for some of its selection calls, has persisted with him through a number of middling seasons.

Perhaps, the management is still enthralled (as I am) by the memories of Rahane’s first significant knocks in Test cricket: his majestic 96 against South African in Durban, which included an outrageous upper-cut of Dale Steyn for six, and his silken maiden hundred against New Zealand in Wellington (which was upstaged by a match-saving triple hundred by Brendon McCullum). Nor were those knocks flashes in the pan; for, by the time Rahane had played thirty-nine Tests, he had nine centuries to his credit and, with an average in the late forties, was well on his way to becoming one of India’s batting greats.

In the thirty Tests that have followed, however, Rahane has scored just three more centuries – although the fact they have come in the last twelve Tests suggest an upswing in form – and averaged a little under thirty-six runs per innings. His cover drives are still a delight to watch and his defensive strokes, when he meets the ball under his eyes rather than pushing at it, remind one of his class. Unless he starts making big runs more consistently, however, particularly at home, the adage form is temporary, but class is permanent may be reduced to a cliché in his case.

Srinivas S 

11 comments

  • England’s team selection makes no sense. Rotating Anderson and Broad is fair enough given their ages and Archer is injured (there must be some concern about his elbow – there appears to be a hyper-extension that is going to struggle with a traditional fast bowler workload). Resting Buttler is hard to understand but he does at least play all formats. However resting him for such a crucial Test both for the series and the WTC is a tacit statement about where Tests stand in ECB priorities. Resting Bess is a complete nonsense. Don’t try to tell me how tough it is to live in a bubble when millions are locked down and in fear of their livelihoods while denied social contacts.

    I was critical of Rohit recently and he’s made a century. Good luck to him but a first-day century against a weakened attack doesn’t disprove my point.

    It sounds like the pitch is already taking considerable spin on day one. On England’s last tour Kohli seemed to take sadistic pleasure in beating England without preparing bunsens. This time, after one poor result, it’s been a return to form. England do the same so can’t complain. Any notion that host nations have a duty to prepare the best possible cricket wicket seems to have disappeared from the game and the game’s poorer for it.

    • Re living in a bubble: I hate to spoil your nice, easy, judgmental black-and-white world Simon, but it could be possible that both of the situations you’re talking about are difficult!

      Of course, as presumably you have the intelligence to know, resting (or dropping) Bess–at least from what Root said about it–has very little to do with living in bubbles.

  • It was a very useful effort by Rahane today, providing Rohit Sharma excellent support in the way that Sibley did for Root in the first match. Incidentally given the nature of the pitch Sharma’s innings for me trumps even Root’s in the first game, although England helped India by selecting Moeen Ali. One of his two wickets came from a very poor shot, and the batter’s reaction made the ball look better than it actually was, and the other was a gimme by a batter who knew that he had benefitted from some shocking umpiring and no longer had his mind on the job in consequence. In his first 20 overs, bowled in the period when India established a stranglehold that has not been fully broken, he went for 94 runs, sabotaging the effect of Leach’s much tighter bowling at the other end. Foakes has demonstrated his status as England’s best wicket keeper, robbed of what would have been a superlative stumping by the third umpire making a howler – it should clearly have been given.

    • One of the more curious elements of Bess’s omission was the suggestion that his full-tosses had pushed his economy rate up too far. 3.19 was mentioned in one articles I read…whereas Ali’s ER over 60 tests is well above that.

      I can see that there could be reasons for that change, but the one thing you don’t bring Ali into a red-ball team for is to improve the economy rate!

      • I agree. Lots of observers today were blaming Moeen’s lack of consistency on a lack of overs. All I can say is that they’ve got very short memories. This is who Moeen is. He has never provided control. His career economy rate is 3.7 which is poor for a spinner.

        Dropping Bess because he is struggling gut consistency is somewhat understandable; but replacing him with Moeen, who’s always been Mr inconsistent, mystifies me. It completely undermines the very argument why England made the change.

        Personally I would’ve stuck with Bess. Like Moeen he’s capable of taking wickets (even if the consistency isn’t currently there) but at least he’s young and might develop in time. I can’t see Mo improving at 33. He is who he is. England have just forgotten who he is during the period he’s been out of the side.

        I don’t understand why England have been so determined to get Mo involved again. I’d rather he just played for Worcester. I honestly don’t know if Bess was really ‘dropped’ or whether it’s just a case of Moeen being ‘brought back’ and Bess was the collateral damage. A subtle but important distinction.

        If you’re one of the guys that England like then you’re never dropped; you’re only ever rested to be brought back, often for nonsensical reasons, later on. It’s a similar story with Jonny Bairstow. England just get twitchy when certain players considered part of the core are missing. They’re always desperate to get them back in.

      • Ali’s USP is surely his strike rate, which is second to pretty much none amongst England spinners (although it’s worth pointing out that Leach’s IS as good and his economy rate is much better). So if England are using the rather obscure statistic that Tim Wigmore was in his article–which essentially suggests that Bess has been more than ordinarily lucky to get so many wickets so far this winter–to have a more reliably wicket-taking option, then it might make sense.

        But the flip side of that is that he goes for runs. You can’t have it both ways–or at least you can’t with Ali; maybe you can with Leach. Expecting him to do both is the same curious thinking that expected Steven Finn to both continue having a strike rate of 50 and simultaneously bowl dry and go for 2.7 an over.

  • If Stokes isn’t carrying an injury, does he still warrant the tag of ‘all rounder’? His contribution of 2-0-16-0 reduced the attack to 4 + a few overs from Root, who only came on because he had to staunch the flow of runs off Moin.

    If Stokes IS injured in some way, wouldn’t it have been sensible to pick Woakes ahead of Lawrence?

  • Rahane is a fantastic player, but he has always been frustrating to watch, he is capable of so much more. Foakes was magnificent with his keeping today, he’S miles better than Bairstow & Buttler in that discipline.

  • Two shockers on DRS today – obviously the Rahane catch was just a simple process error but the stumping? The camera was looking straight down the line and there was no part of Rohit’s foot behind it. There was no doubt to give the batsman the benefit of. It was out. And wasn’t Foakes’s keeping magnificent on that wicket? I reckon he saved England 15-20 byes compared to Buttler or Bairstow.
    The bowling attack is a concern though. Joe Root was arguably the best of the 3 spinners! Like other commentators, I couldn’t understand the decision to replace Bess (inconsistent) with Moeen (inconsistent). However if Stokes is barely going to bowl they need an extra bowler. Personally I’d have retained Bess and replaced Lawrence with Moeen and asked him to bat 3. I doubt he’d score many but given how out of his depth Lawrence looked last week, I doubt he will either. The extra spinner would have been handy. I thought Stone looked good, too, incidentally. Very tough from here. Chasing more than about 80 will be hugely challenging.

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