Ajinkya Rahane scored one of the great Test hundreds at the MCG to level the series for India Down Under. He led India’s fightback and inspired a dramatic turnaround which eventually culminated in the team defying all odds, controversies and injuries and registering a sensational 2-1 win against the hosts in what was their greatest series triumph in Test history. Rahane, in the absence of Virat Kohli led the side brilliantly making all the right moves on and off the field. There is no debating this.
But there is another uncomfortable truth which the Indian fans and selectors need to confront. And that is the form of India’s number 5 since 2020. From the tour to New Zealand till the end of the Chennai Test in 2021, Rahane has an aggregate of 360 runs in 7 Tests (14 innings) at an average of 27.69 with just one hundred (MCG) and no fifty! If we remove the magnificent 112, Rahane has scored just 248 runs in the other 13 innings at a paltry average of 20.67 with a highest score of 46. These are very poor returns for a proper middle order batsman occupying the crucial number 5 position in the XI. With a 5+1+5 combination at home, India cannot afford to have their number 5 batsman out of form for a considerable length of time – it prolongs their lower-order and tail and puts enormous pressure on the top 4.
Rahane has spent a total of just 930 minutes on the crease in these 13 innings, which translates to approximately 72 minutes or a little over an hour of batting in the middle every time he has walked to bat. That is just not enough to build a substantial innings and contribute significantly. He has, on an average, faced just 49 deliveries per outing in these 13 innings. Rahane has six scores of under-10 which suggests a very high failure rate for the batsman in this time-frame. He has been dismissed in the 20s thrice, once in the 30s and twice in the 40s in this period indicating that whenever he has got a start, barring the century in Melbourne, Rahane has thrown it away and not been able to convert it into a significant score for his team. This raises questions on his temperament – Rahane is not putting a price on his wicket as he should.
Amongst the 56 batsmen who have aggregated a minimum of 200 runs since 2020, Rahane’s batting average places him as low as number 53! With India in trouble having already lost three wickets for 70 odd on the board in the first innings in Chennai, Rahane came down the track and only managed to scoop a full toss off Dom Less to Joe Root at short cover – poor shot selection and then even poorer execution. He departed for one. Having survived a close leg before shout the previous delivery, Rahane left a gap between bat and pad and saw his stumps shattered off the very next delivery by Anderson in the second innings. He exited for a duck.
The thing about great batsmen and what separates them from the average and good ones is when they hit form they strike big – not only in that innings and that particular match but in the whole series and the series after and may be the entire season and year. That has not happened with Rahane. Against all odds he produced a majestic match-winning hundred under pressure at the MCG but could not follow that up with even one more substantial innings for the remainder of the series. Without Virat Kohli that could have proven to be disastrous for India had Cheteshwar Pujara not batted like Pujara and India not found new heroes in Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar.
Rahane has been one of India’s finest at number 5 having produced some great innings overseas when others have failed around him. Sure, he may be going through a lean patch but playing just 5 specialist batsmen in India, it is costing the home team big time. With the likes of KL Rahul warming the bench there might be a case to give Rahane a break just to give him a breather away from the pressure and demands of performing in these strenuous Covid-19 times.
If he continues to fail and not perform consistently questions will be raised about his place in the XI especially if India are further challenged by England in the ongoing series. As great a knock as that was Rahane’s current batting numbers cannot be camouflaged forever by what he achieved as a batsman in Melbourne or as a captain in Australia.