Venkat Ananth

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Why Rahane Is Here To Stay

 

 

Moving away from the
sick-bay that the Indian team has been this summer, there is a story waiting to
be told or written about. And that story begins with a quote by Mike
Singletary, a legendary American Football player and coach, who once said, "Do
you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play" -
words that a young, ambitious lad from suburban Mumbai would quite agree with,
for it has been his career's mantra.

 

With a track record
in domestic cricket (not IPL) worth dying for in four seasons (across
competitions and mid-level tours), all that Ajinkya Rahane was waiting for,
with a certain sense of imperturbability, was an opportunity to play for India
and show what he was capable of. And boy, the three games he's played for India
in the limited overs leg of this tour he's looked every bit of a top-grade
cricketer, with a tick mark each for talent, technique and temperament, the
cliched "three Ts" of international cricket. Rest assured, he's here to
stay. 

 

That might well
appear to be a bold, unseasonable statement to make considering that he's still
in his nappies as far as international cricket is concerned, but for those
who've followed Rahane's career, right from age of 17 where the initial signs
were visible to where it is today, it might well be an understatement. The
class was always there, even some of those strokes you see today, a product of
an industrious, dedicated approach that Rahane has always believed and invested
in.

 

The making of Rahane

 

Even as some of his
performances in England got the media going, there was that constant,
habitually "feet firmly on the ground" feeling about Rahane, with wise words
like, "It's just the start, but there's a long way to go" almost in repetition -
signs and values you want to see and cherish in a young Indian cricketer,
especially in times when Indian cricket has gotten its priorities in a twist.
And then there is the Mumbai batsman in Rahane, the archetype of the city's
cricketing culture, much branded by the colloquial khadoos - where
cricketers are trained not to A) give up easily and B) not give an inch to the
opposition and C) grind them out of contention if possible.

 

But what stands out
with Rahane is his forbearance or patience, quietly waiting for his chances
when some of his contemporaries are making hay and true to the saying, as soon
the time cometh, he taketh with both hands and kudos to him for doing so.

 

From a more technical
perspective, Rahane's knocks have been almost perfect with a certain
rubber-stamp that he "belongs" at that level. While observing a fledgling
batsman, you generally scout for technical attributes or "basics" as they're
called - crease management or how organized the batsman is, balance, transfer
of weight and with all of those in place, footwork and ultimately shot
selection with subsequent execution.

 

What equally stands
out with Rahane, is what is often spoken of great batsmen - that magical
ability to pick length early and play the ball late. Rahane has ticked almost
every category quite effortlessly, with the only exception of not being able to
make a start count at Durham, with that 40 he scored there. The two
half-centuries, one each in an ODI (23 overs) and a T20 were two entirely
different knocks, yet had a common strand of similarity - the fact that proper
cricketing shots were played and slogs or hoicks through mid-wicket kept to the
minimum and importantly, pleasing to the eyes with the rare grey-haired
maturity.

 

The most impressive
observation about Rahane's knocks in England is not quite the strokeplay but
some of the finer details in batting, which are usually not taught but learnt
as a batsman goes along, for example - strike rotation (which both he and
Parthiv Patel have been doing brilliantly) or for that matter, playing the
waiting game by giving the bowler his moments before taking him on (Stuart
Broad at the Rose Bowl) and making the bowler earn his wicket rather than
throwing it away. Of course, these less-glorious yet enormously significant
attributes don't get the mention they deserve sadly, overshadowed by a more
lyrical appreciation of the batsman's ability to play strokes.

 

The mental apparatus

 

Another major
component in this Rahane story coming together has been a thorough shift in the
mental make-up of the young batsman. Often in the past, his critics believed he
would get bored of batting and satisfied with huge scores and play a tired
shot, more often than not ending up what is described as a "soft dismissal". A
part of that can be explained with the number of 90s (nine of them) that Rahane
has managed to accumulate in first-class cricket (this despite a phenomenal
conversion rate, 17 hundreds and 18 fifties, by the way). But thankfully, this
seems to be passé today and Rahane, quietly slipping under the tutelage of
Shane Warne and Jeremy Snape during the IPL, has definitely turned the corner
with the minute mental adjustments.

 

The Rahane of the old,
as some of his colleagues felt, would try harder to impress and in the process
let himself down. Today, he's far more relaxed and that seems to have rubbed
onto his game and results, especially in the Emerging Players' Tournament in
Australia this year, are there to see. The hunger for runs, the desire to
perform and that ceaseless drive to improve was always there, but today, one
can safely add that requisite mental toughness to succeed at the top with
sterner tests awaiting him. 

 

What next for Rahane,
you might ask? If I were in the selection committee (which thankfully, I am
not), I'd give him the whole of the England one-dayers in India and West Indies
tour to make his mark, and if possible enable him to earn a berth for the
Aussie tour, with a few of the batting spots definitely up for grabs, even as
backups.

 

Where to play Rahane

 

In short, Ajinkya
Rahane should be given a chance to fail or conversely, a chance to succeed i.e.
good run of games over a longer period of time before the selectors and the
team management have made up their minds about him as an India cricketer. This,
because, Indian cricket is entering a phase where there could well be a jostle
for  batting places in the national setup and competition for any sporting
side is only an enabling factor. Where does he play?

 

The perception with
Rahane is that he's not quite the reserve opener that India are looking for
today and should focus on replacing one of the middle-order legends. Sure. But
for a lad who started his cricketing career as an opener and has only moved
down the order with Mumbai for what could be deduced as tactical reasons, he
must definitely know a thing or two about opening the innings, and doing that
successfully. Does he have to make up his mind about where he wants to bat? Not
in the interim, I reckon, for his versatility in all positions in the top-order
(and I'd imagine that a no.3 is more a top-order than a middle-order bat) is
well documented and must be seen positively, for he opens up a couple of
options in that batting order.

 

But from a long-term
perspective, it is important that he settles down in a batting position where
he could be of maximum gain to Indian cricket, be it as an opener or the No.3.
Equally, this is a golden opportunity to blood Rahane into the line-up for the
Test series against the West Indies and find out more about him as a Test
batsman, for Indian cricket needs to decisively plan its transition than be
forced to decide.

 

The value of structured domestic cricket

 

The other aspect that
Rahane's selection might in its own quiet way communicate is the value of
domestic cricket, which, I am afraid the BCCI doesn't take seriously and also,
he's no one-season wonder, as many before him to grace Indian cricket have
been. If anything, Rahane is a thorough-bred who in his four-year domestic
career for Mumbai has already demonstrated the sort of consistency few have, an
average of 67.72, which places him in fourth position in the all time list,
only behind The Don, Vijay Merchant and George Headley.

 

Not just that, he's
equally demonstrated his ability abroad - part of the ‘A' tour to England, the
Emerging Players setup to Australia for two consecutive seasons now and
importantly excelled in those alien conditions. This quite candidly
demonstrating this rare ability to adapt to conditions, and not just that
overcome them with a degree of certainty. Take this current tour for example,
in conditions where India's batsmen have been virtually struggling to put bat
to ball all summer, this lad through a certain element of orthodoxy in his
game, has settled in smoothly, almost an affirmation of the quality of
batsmanship Indian fans should expect from him in the next five to ten years.

 

And where the suits
of Indian cricket could learn from the Rahane story is the need to invest in
domestic cricket talents, with the structure itself becoming more of a
nursery/academy-like setup where talents are identified early and their
subsequent performances monitored on a regular basis for an amount of time
(more than a year or two) and a reward system, where those talents get promoted
through the mid-level A-team/Emerging Players platforms.

 

Three games into his
international career, and Ajinkya Rahane is already a critical participant in
the next giant leap Indian cricket decides to take. And hopefully, he's here to
stay.

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