Rahane's thorny home ride

Cricket: The right-hander has not been able to match his overseas success in India

Rahane's thorny home ride
Ajinkya Rahane is one of those rare batsmen whose overseas batting average is better than his figures at home. It’s a badge of honour someone like Rahul Dravid proudly wore on his flannel.

It’s an indication of a batsman’s ability to bat out of his comfort zone and Rahane has proved it across various countries and in differing conditions, having scored centuries on the bouncy surfaces of Australia and South Africa and on the seaming tracks of England and New Zealand. And not unlike Dravid, Rahane too has been a selfless cricketer having batted from No 3 to 7 to meet the team’s requirements.

Not surprisingly, his is one of the few names that is automatically jotted down on the list of playing 11. Even after his replacement during the England series -- Karun Nair -- hammered a triple hundred, Rahane was handed back his position the moment he returned fit for the ongoing Australia series.

Head coach Anil Kumble defended Rahane’s inclusion on the same lines. “I think there's no question of looking at dropping Rahane,” he asserted. “He's scored really well. He's been extremely successful over the last couple of years. There's absolutely no question about that… It's unfortunate that Karun has missed out after he scored that triple hundred. That's the way the composition of the team has been where we've looked to play five bowlers and you know it's unfortunate,” he reasoned.

While it’s not to cast any aspersions on Rahane’s ability to bat on the relatively slow pitches of India, the fact remains that the right-hander’s home record pales in comparison to his performance on pitches where the ball comes nicely on to the bat.

Barring in England in 2014 when he sort of fizzled out after a good start, Rahane has impressive numbers in countries outside the sub-continent. He averages 54 in New Zealand and that number shoots up to 57 in Australia. At almost 70 runs per innings in South Africa, he has proved his competence against the bouncing ball, traditionally considered the weak point of Indian batsmen.

Rahane’s overall overseas average too is an impressive 51.22 as opposed his career average of 46.40. His average in India is even more underwhelming at 39.28 spread over 13 Tests. A difference of almost 11 runs per innings between home and away suggests he has some issues playing on pitches that have less bounce and carry. He has particularly struggled on turning tracks.           

While there have been a few instances of him churning out good knocks like the two hundreds in the Delhi Test against South Africa in 2015 and the 188 against New Zealand in Indore last year, these innings inevitably have been followed by prolonged run of low scores. For example, he has just one 50 in the last 10 hits at home – the 88 against Bangladesh on a Hyderabad pitch which was considered flat. While playing at home, he also has 15 scores of 26 or less in 22 innings that proves his remarkable inconsistency in these conditions.

It’s exactly this reason – his inability to rotate strike or manufacture strokes that he is so adept at while batting outside the subcontinent – why he often misses out in the shorter-version scheme of things. He was not part of the T20I squad against England while he played just one ODI against the same opponents early this year.
     
The selectors and the team management in this case clearly appear to follow the horses-for-courses policy which they seem reluctant to extend to the longer version if it involves a batsman. Otherwise we have seen this strategy being strictly followed in case of bowling where combinations keep changing according to the conditions available, perhaps a logical way to go about things. Why not then adopt the same tactic when it comes to batsmen?

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