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The elevation of Ajinkya Rahane

Livemint logo Livemint 21-07-2016

When the Indian team for the West Indies Test series was announced, there was one name that quite literally stood out. In what was an elevation that no one quite expected, Ajinkya Rahane was named the vice-captain for the West Indies tour, where India are expected to play four test matches in July.

Since last year, when Virat Kohli took over the reins of India’s young test squad, he’s done so without a formal deputy, although such a thing is not unusual in international cricket. He would often seek tactical inputs from some of his best known “thinkers”, chief among those being off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan and to an extent, Cheteshwar Pujara. Rahane, was in a way an outlier, given that the rest of the pack have been leaders of their respective domestic teams.

Rahane’s rise in stock as far as Indian cricket, especially Test cricket is concerned, has been worth cherishing. His Test-debut was much awaited, given the number of runs he’d scored for Mumbai, India A, West Zone and other teams in domestic first-class cricket. And when it finally came against Australia at the Ferozeshah Kotla in 2013, it was a forgettable one. Two bad shots in either innings, first where he miscued a length ball from Nathan Lyon to Steve Smith for 7, and the other, where he slogged one in the air off Glenn Maxwell for Lyon to complete the catch for 1. That was completely unlike Rahane, given his penchant for the orthodox, correct form of cricket, a skill he’d honed and developed in the muddy maidans of Mumbai.

That minor, initial blip aside, Rahane has quite transformed himself as one of most dependable Indian batsmen, especially on foreign shores, much like his mentor Rahul Dravid. It began in South Africa, towards the end of his debut year. Batting at an unusual position towards the lower-middle order (number 6), Rahane’s patient innings of 47 would set the foundation for an eventually successful tour. At Durban, the strokes would follow, where in the first innings, Rahane made another patient 51, his first half-century in Test cricket, and light-up the second, with a flair-filled 96, which came after India’s top-order was blown away under 100. India would go on to lose that match, but that tour went a long way in ensuring Rahane belonged at this level.

His Test record since that South Africa tour makes for impressive reading, if not better. A hundred (118) in New Zealand followed two months later, a fantastic, counter-attacking, match-winning hundred at Lord’s in 2014 (103*) and in the Australia tour that followed, a hundred (147) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which included a memorable 262-run partnership with Kohli. The following year, even though he began the Test series against Sri Lanka poorly, Rahane’s 126 (batting at three) in the second Test, virtually set up the match for India’s bowlers. Though he had a forgettable home series against South Africa, he more than made up for it in the last Test at the Kotla, grafting his way to a hundred in each innings and in doing so, joining an elite club of Indian cricketers to do so.

One virtue that quite literally separates Rahane from the rest of his peers is the manner in which he goes about his job, typically unassuming, with a focus about him, something he’s nurtured since his age-group days with Mumbai. Equally, what works for Rahane is his selfless approach, the quintessential team-man image that, again, he’s carried since his Ranji Trophy days. Though Rahane began as a number three for Mumbai, he’d often end up opening the innings, should the team want him to. It is this versatility that has tended to set Rahane apart.

In his brief career as an Indian cricketer, Rahane has distinguished himself as a personality from days of yore, or what the cliched labels would label as a “thorough gentleman”. The vice-captaincy for Rahane, has come at the perfect time. After all, a fine partnership with captain Kohli is not entirely unfamiliar.

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