Rahane needs to rediscover his game

OUT OF SYNC: Ajinkya Rahane has often been dismissed against England while chasing the ball on the off and nicking it behind the wickets. Reuters

When India set off to England, one batsman whom many had pinned their faith in was Ajinkya Rahane. The unassuming Mumbaikar, unlike some of the other Indian batsmen, relished playing in non-Asian conditions and had built a career around that reputation.

His natural ability to tackle pace, swing and seam has seen him master conditions in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England with perhaps only skipper Virat Kohli from the current line-up being better than him. Barring South Africa, he’s had a century in all those nations — he fell short of the landmark in the Rainbow Nation by just four runs in 2013-14 — and having got his name etched on the Lord’s Honours Board for a majestic 103 in 2014, the vice-captain was the one the team was hoping will deliver on this England tour.

But things have just not gone right for the 30-year-old and his poor returns have had a negative effect on the Indian team as well. In the opening Test at Birmingham he scored just 15 and 2 while in the second game at Lord’s, he departed for 18 and 13. The dismissals in all four innings have a tone of similarity to them — trying to fish for the ball outside off-stump and finding an edge.

Unlike some Indian batsmen who got unplayable deliveries in Lord’s, Rahane’s demise in both matches were more self-inflicted. He could have easily let the ball go but played uncharacteristic shots to cut short his own stay. His anger when he chased a wide delivery from Stuart Broad in the second innings of the second Test was very evident. Although he knew saving the match was a herculean challenge, it was a chance to find some form for the remaining challenges and he had frittered it way. The shake of the head and the self-deprecation was there for all to see.

Rahane, in fact, has been having a horror run since the tour of Sri Lanka last July-August. While he’s known to struggle in slow, spinning Asian pitches where the ball doesn’t come onto the bat quickly, his struggles in conditions favourable to him have  been baffling.

Since last August, he’s been out six times caught by wicketkeeper or slips and either bowled or trapped leg-before wicket on four occasions. With an average of just 11.46 with six single digit scores in the last eight Test matches, it’s a worrying statistic for one of India’s premier middle-order batsmen.

A major contributing factor in Rahane’s slide could be the mental space he’s in. Citing form as the reason, the think-tank dropped Rahane and played Rohit Sharma despite being completely aware of the latter’s vulnerabilities on juicy tracks and red ball in the first two Tests in South Africa. When that move backfired, they recalled Rahane who scored a priceless 48 in the second innings. But the decision to drop the vice-captain seems to have done some damage to his confidence.

Rahane, once considered as the third opener in one-dayers by Kolhi not too long ago, is pretty much out of the reckoning in limited overs formats. Tests are all that he has to play for now and not being sure of place in that too could be having a negative impact on him. The constant pressure to get runs appears to be the reason behind Rahane, an otherwise calm customer, playing shots that we seldom associate with him.

While it’s indeed tough times for Rahane, many greats of the game have gone through similarly hard phases. In fact, their greatness has been defined by their rise from such slumps. Even Kohli hit a trough the last time he toured here in 2014 before emerging stronger now. Rahane is going through that low now. And he needs to find a way to come out of it. The next three Tests offer him a chance.

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