The monk and the blackbelt reside comfortably together within Ajinkya Rahane. It is easy to believe that the former dominates but that would be a lazy first impression for it is the first degree judo blackbelt that has had a greater influence on him. He is not the most garrulous but when comfortable, he talks about the strength that he got from practising martial arts. It is a strength that you see when he is at the crease.
“I was the youngest in the judo class” he says and that meant he had to make a statement with his actions, “not with my words”! For his exam, he had to break fifty bricks and had fifty men jump on his stomach (one at a time obviously!). “It made me tough” he says and he learnt to show his aggression with his deeds. It is an approach that will appeal to his new coach!
And having the patience of a monk helps too. He played 60 first class matches before being able to play test cricket and he spent it accumulating 6460 runs and 19 centuries. And when he did get picked he spent sixteen months on the bench, watching seven others make their debut! Sometimes when you have to wait that long, you can be almost too eager to make an impact and Rahane’s debut wasn’t particularly auspicious. He had to wait another nine months to play a test match and so it is that at 28, he has only played 24 test matches. A mere five of those are in India which makes his average of 47 look even more special.
A move up the order
For the moment, he is well settled at number five. There is much jostling at the top of the order and I wonder if, somewhere within and away from a microphone, he would like to go to number three which is where he made all those runs in first class cricket. It is also a question of how ambitious he is at the moment because opportunities at number five, especially in a strong batting side in home conditions, could be limited.
But, temperamentally, he has a lot going for him at that position. He brings a calm head to most situations and while he is around, the dressing room tends to be calm as well. In his short career, he seems possessed of an innate ability to do what is right in a particular situation. And as a fabulous team player, he is willing to play as the situation demands. His second century at Delhi against South Africa was an example of that for he took on himself the risk of scoring quickly so that Virat Kohli might cruise to a century.
“Once I am set, I like to dominate the opposition” he said recently in an interview with TheRingSideView.com. “I’m the boss in the middle; whenever I am batting, I am the man in charge” Those might, to the uninitiated, seem like someone else’s lines but that is merely the steel coming to the surface. As he faces tough opposition in the months ahead, even if in home conditions, that steel will be tested.
Work in progress
When you have but twenty four tests behind you, you are really still a work in progress. And that is what is most thrilling about Rahane. His centuries have come in six different countries and he came close to getting one in Bangladesh and in New Zealand. It suggests an ability to overcome conditions very quickly. When the learning curve is short, as it seems to be with him, incremental progress is rapid. England is the only country that jars a bit on his cv for in spite of that breathtaking century at Lords, he only averaged 33 in that series where India went into freefall too soon after a win.
If you want to be really hard on him, you might point to sudden fluctuations in concentration, the kind we saw at Sabina Park in the course of that century. I won’t be surprised if, by the time he has doubled his tally of test matches, that will have gone because with a mere twenty four tests, you are really only in middle school yet. Maybe, just maybe, that is a hangover of trying to make an impression in limited overs cricket which is the next frontier for him.
The people writing promos are trying to suggest Kohli and Rahane are the next Tendulkar and Dravid. Hold that for a while because these two have played but a fraction of the games those two did. But if you missed watching Tendulkar and Dravid evolve into giants, then maybe the journey of these two could be a compensation.