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Monday, September 27, 2021

Explained: Why retaining Rahane for final Test against England wouldn’t be a bad idea

Ajinkya Rahane had a largely forgettable time since landing in England. He has had just one half-century to show in nine visits to the crease in five Tests.

Written by Tushar Bhaduri , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 9, 2021 7:56:31 am
India vs England, Ajinkya Rahane, IND vs ENG fifth Test match, India vs England series, Hanuma Vihari, Suryakumar Yadav, Indian ExpressIf Rahane is indeed dropped for the fifth Test, India will have to bring back either Hanuma Vihari or give a debut to Suryakumar Yadav. Both of them have had no competitive cricket for a long time. (File photo)

Almost every player stood up to be counted and contributed to India’s Test triumph at The Oval.

All except Ajinkya Rahane, who has had a largely forgettable time since landing in England. He has had just one half-century to show in nine visits to the crease in five Tests. In fact, in seven of those knocks, the India vice-captain has failed to reach 20. With a chance to win the series at Old Trafford in the game starting on Friday, there is talk of the Mumbaikar being dropped from the playing XI.

That will be a bold call going into such a significant match, but skipper Virat Kohli has not been averse to making decisions that raise eyebrows. However, giving Rahane another game wouldn’t be a bad idea.

What are the alternatives?

If Rahane is indeed dropped for the fifth Test, India will have to bring back either Hanuma Vihari or give a debut to Suryakumar Yadav. Both of them have had no competitive cricket for a long time. Vihari featured in a few county championship games for Warwickshire in April, but didn’t quite get going. He has had one fifty in eight outings with four single-figure scores.

Yadav has been a revelation in white-ball cricket for India, but has not played any match since arriving in England. It would be a big call to thrust either of the two batsmen in a big game at the expense of an experienced player, even if he is going through a lean phase.

An additional factor to consider would be that India have been playing with only five specialist batsmen throughout the series, and are not likely to alter the template at Old Trafford. Any new entrant is, more often than not, introduced at No. 6 but exercising that option would mean Ravindra Jadeja batting at No. 5 again, which doesn’t look like a long-term solution. In such a case, it may be better to trust a player who has risen to the challenge in Test cricket before.

If the logic to send Jadeja up the order is to break the rhythm of England bowlers with a left-hander, both Vihari and Yadav are right-handers.

If Rahane can’t deliver in the fifth Test, either Vihari or Yadav could be inducted at the start of the next series and given a long rope, rather than a one-off audition in a high-profile game.

Can the rest of the team carry Rahane?

The England team India is confronted with is not blessed with batting riches either. Even with Rahane struggling and several other batsmen contributing only sporadically, the visitors have largely dominated the series. They are not likely to need 500 to boss a game. Openers KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma have often laid the foundation for competitive totals and the bowlers frequently come to the party.

Rahane’s recent track record shows a significant score after several failures. That’s what happened in that series-turning century at Melbourne late last year, and the vital 61 in the second Test at Lord’s in the ongoing series. He may be due a good knock, but even otherwise his experience and tactical nous may be useful for Kohli.

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Trusting class

There was a time when Rahane was considered India’s best batsman outside the sub-continent (even better than Kohli). Of his 12 Test hundreds, six have come in either Australia, New Zealand, England or West Indies – often in tough batting conditions. He can’t become a bad player overnight. All Rahane may need is getting his mind in order and rectifying a few technical glitches that may have entered his game – like following the ball outside off-stump, or getting his front foot too across making him an LBW candidate. Cheteshwar Pujara turned the corner with a positive approach, and Rahane cannot do a lot worse than following his teammate’s example.

The two bat well together – be it against Australia at Bengaluru in 2017, or at Lord’s in the current series.

Leave the job to specialists

Sending Jadeja ahead of Rahane at The Oval was a surprise move. It seemed a one-off in the first innings when India had lost three early wickets, but repeating it against the second new ball on the third evening couldn’t have been a big vote of confidence for Rahane. If the team management thinks that Jadeja is better equipped to handle the new ball or tough conditions – regardless of the fact that he’s a left-hander – they just need to look at their Test records with the bat.

Old Trafford is a big game. India has not won a series in England since 2007. The situation needs experience and calm heads, something that Rahane has in abundance – with or without bat in hand.

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