The current Indian Test team features stalwarts like Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin in their ranks but a key cog in their machine which holds the team together and who is the most important player in the team is Ajinkya Rahane.
Here are 5 reasons why Ajinkya is the most important member of the Test team:
#1 He brings calmness to the team
India has players with aggressive attitudes such as Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli who don’t hold back in terms of their demeanour. In every team you need someone to balance the batting line-up, someone who is very strong mentally and who has a Zen like exterior to handle some tough situations in a very calm and patient manner.
Like his predecessor Rahul Dravid, Ajinkya can be a person who can bring some tough situations under control just through his calm demeanor which is required in the modern game as most of the players get impatient and make certain decisions on an impulse which could go on to hurt them and the team in the long run.
This can be especially seen when India need to go for a DRS review and on certain occasions the umpire may have made a blunder and it becomes easy to go in for a DRS.
But in most cases when the bowlers are convinced that DRS is required and Virat Kohli is tending towards going an impulse or his gut feeling, Rahane steps in , brings some calm to that situation and helps in the DRS process. This proves to be really useful, as he, standing at first slip, would have the best view of the situation thereby helping Kohli with the decision making process well.
2. He brings the perfect balance to the batting line-up
India has a very strong batting line up consisting of KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wridhiman Saha and the all-rounders Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. But the batsman who brings the best balance to this batting line-up is Ajinkya Rahane.
He is someone who comes in the middle order, brings in the right solidity to the batting line-up and along with Pujara completely stabilizes the innings. Rahane comes in usually when there is a need to stabilize the innings or build on a partnership both aspects which he has shown to be capable of handling with ease.
Take for e.g., the second test at Colombo when he came in after Kohli’s early demise and he and Pujara notched up a huge partnership of over 300 runs and he himself scored a beautiful error free 132 runs complimenting Pujara’ s 133.
The need of the hour at that time was to neutralize any benefit Sri Lanka got with the fall of few quick wickets, play it out and build on a strong, solid partnership which exactly is what happened and that ended up being the crucial difference between the two sides as India notched up a mammoth 622/9 beating the hosts by an inning and 52 runs over the hosts something which never happened before. A moment to cherish for Indian fans.
Whether be it showcasing his solid technique and holding one end up or increasing the scoring rate when required, Rahane can play both roles with ease which increase his importance in the side adding to his value as a player and as the vice-captain of the Test team.
3. Ability to bat efficiently with the top order and the tail enders
Any test batsman coming in at the number 5 position needs to be mentally and temperamentally prepared to bat a good amount of time with the top order, but more importantly with the tail enders. This was a role mastered by VVS Laxman when he used to marshal the innings around the tail enders and win games for India single-handedly.
It looks like that trait has been carried forward by Rahane in this current team. Rahane is slightly lucky as there is more emphasis given to making sure bowlers also bat a little and not give away their wickets that easily.
So now even a Mohammad Shami coming in at number 11 can hold his end up by playing a few shots.
Still it’s really pleasing to see Ajinkya adapting to situations and playing according to that with ease. Whether it be building on a partnership with the solid Pujara or the classy Kohli, or adding some precious runs with the lower order he has proven his mettle time and again making his an integral part of this Indian team and the results is there for everyone to see- 8 consecutive series wins for Kohli. The silent champion in the team, happy to just do his bit for the team’s success is Ajinkya Rahane.
4. A perfect foil to Virat Kohli’s aggressive brand of captaincy
Every aggressive captain needs someone who can calm him down, help him with decision making-on and off the field and more importantly who understands him and his style of captaincy well. India is lucky to have found that with the Kohli - Rahane combination.
Rahane has found ways to assist Kohli on the field. Be it with setting the right fields for bowler or making the decisive bowling changes or helping out with DRS decisions, his importance is rather underplayed and not talked about much but the fact of the matter is without his quiet and silent support, Kohli wouldn’t have achieved this amount of success, something he himself has expressed in post-match interviews.
A recent example was seen in the Dharamshala test match between India and Australia, the deciding test in that series where the think-tank and coaching staff were in favour of picking an extra seamer as the pitch would assist fast bowlers.
But Kohli was of the opinion that playing the unknown left arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav would be a better option as the Australian haven’t played him and he could pose a bigger threat.
That decision was strongly backed by Ajinkya Rahane and the results were positive as Kuldeep Yadav provided some crucial scalps which helped India beat Australia helping them clinch the hard fought series 2-1.
5. India’s best slip catcher without a doubt
Ever since Rahul Dravid who holds the record for having the most slip catches in the history of Test cricket, India have been looking for a solid, bankable, and good fit for the slip position both against fast bowlers and spinners. Ajinkya Rahane has fit into that role rather well, especially over the past year or so.
India have tried various options at first slip - among them Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and even Virat Kohli but there have been missed chances which has affected games. India needed a player who could slip into the important role of a slip catcher and have found out that Ajinkya is the most suited for that position.
His positioning, confidence, agility and alertness makes him Kohli’s go to man when the spinners are bought on into the attack. It becomes imperative that the spinner-slip catcher combination clicks as that combination can win matches for teams.
Classic examples like Shane Warne - Mark Waugh, Muttiah Muralitharan- Mahela Jayawardene come to mind. The success the Sri Lankan and Australian teams saw is proof of that.
Similarly, Rahhane has proved his importance as in 39 Test matches he has grabbed 50 catches and moreover his presence at slip when Ravi Ashwin or Jadeja bowl is a big boost for India when they have bowled over the past year or so resulting in tremendously positive results for the team with them winning 8 Test series in a row which is a milestone in itself.