After a solid performance with the bat on the opening day, India opener Murali Vijay was dismissed towards the fag end of the day’s play of the third India-Sri Lanka Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi. Ajinkya Rahane walked out to the middle with the challenge of surviving the final few overs. In spite of a miserable series so far, most would have expected Rahane to see through the day but that wasn’t the case.
The 29-year old, too, became a victim to Sandakan after the chinaman tempted him to step out of the crease with a flighted delivery which turned the other way. The right-hander committed to the drive and failed to make a connection. The flight of the delivery meant Rahane’s back-leg left the popping crease and allowed stumper Niroshan Dickwella enough time to whip the bails and send him back to the hut.
Rahane’s shot selection, which was being questioned throughout the series, did not improve in the second innings at Kotla. Facing a delivery by off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, he opted for the release hit over long-on but miscued it straight to Sandakan.
Apart from the fact that Rahane has scored just 17 runs in five innings at an average of 3.4 in this series, what has looked more worrisome is his inability to apply himself against the slow bowlers, which is often considered to be the strength of Indian players at home. Just a few months ago, the diminutive player from Mumbai had scored a century against a similar Lankan bowling attack in an overseas tour.
Contrasting campaign in Sri Lanka: When India traveled to Sri Lanka earlier this year, Rahane looked a completely different player altogether. During the second Test at Colombo, India lost three wickets in a quick session and with skipper Virat Kohli gone, looked uncomfortable at 133/3. But Rahane’s partnership of 217 runs with Cheteshwar Pujara took India to a comfortable position.
The batsman also completed his 9th Test ton. It was not his only moment of glory in the series. He also scored a half century in the first Test at Galle. He scored 229 runs in four innings in the tournament at an average of 76.33. He became the fourth highest run scorer from India in the series.
Struggle at home: If statistics are any indication, Rahane has not been at his primordial best in Tests at home. In 19 Tests played in India, the batsman has scored 1009 runs at an average of 33.63, with 3 centuries and three half tons. His score of 188 against New Zealand in October 2016 in Indore restored selectors’ faith in him and in spite of repeated low scores, he continued to find a place in the Test squad.
But the record overseas shows Rahane’s true character. In 24 matches, the 29-year old has scored 1817 runs in 40 innings at an average of 53.44. He has also smashed six centuries and nine fifties overseas. Clearly, the overseas record has prompted the selectors to place faith in the batsman and has booked him a ticket for the upcoming tour to South Africa.
Rahane against South Africa: The batsmen has visited the turf before and has already proved his mettle at fast-paced African pitches. In two matches Rahane has played in South Africa, he managed to score two half centuries, and scored 209 runs at an average of 69.66. He missed out on his century by four runs at a Test in Durban in December 2013. India will look to make the most of his experience of facing South African seamers on bouncy pitches.
Rahane can also take confidence in the fact that he has scored two centuries against South Africa at home as well. When South Africa visited India in December 2015, Rahane scored a ton in both the innings in the third Test in New Delhi. His overall average against the opposition in Test cricket is 59.37.
Rahane’s average against South Africa is higher than the captain himself. Kohli in 6 Tests has scored 472 runs at an average of 47.20. Even Cheteshwar Pujara’s record is not as impressive as his teammate. Pujara has scored 513 runs in 8 Tests against South Africa at an average of 39.46.
The statistics speak for themselves and it appears there was no way Rahane could have been left out of the squad for the upcoming South African tour. But whether the 29-year batsman will repay the selector’s faith still remains to be seen. India would hope Rahane can regain his run-scoring form against the Proteas which may lift the questions that are currently facing him.