As his reverse-sweep landed in the short third-man’s hand, Ajinkya Rahane banged his bat on the ground and admonished himself. With his place in the Test side looking increasingly shaky, the Mumbai batsman needed more than the 54 he logged to make a valid case for himself.
It was a bizarre knock, as most of Rahane’s outings these days have been. He didn’t look particularly scratchy for someone who hasn’t been among the runs. But he didn’t always look fluent either. Time and again, whenever he exuded assurance, would arrive a bad stroke or misjudgment. There was a classic instance soon after he had carved left-arm spinner Khary Pierre for a six over long-off. He seemed to have located the timing that had eluded him in the first innings, but off the next ball, a long hop of the most abysmal kind, he under-edged onto his thighs. At one moment he would look gorgeous, especially when driving through the covers, and the next rickety.
Nonetheless, he laboured on for 162 deliveries, most of his runs coming through nudges, pushes and mistimed late cuts. He is dexterous with his late cuts, but here he repeatedly mistimed those, though he didn’t feel like he needed to cut out the stroke. One stroke he did abstain from — one that had been his undoing of late — was the outside the off-stump dab, a nothing shot in the longer format. Rather, he was more judicious outside off-stump, leaving a third of those deliveries on the fourth-fifth stump line. And the West Indies A bowlers incessantly probed him in the channel.
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Strangely, it was the humble spin of Perry and Akim Fraser that hassled him more than pace. He was often jumpy against them, eager to rotate strike but squirting the ball more often to the fielders. In fairness to him, there was a bit of inconsistent bounce that made some balls leap from a good length and others to scoot along the ground. So he tried using his feet to smother the spin, but several times was beaten in flight. But he did his best to banish the demons that have been tormenting him for a while, and that was precisely the reason he felt gutted when he perished.
Rahane’s hard times had triggered speculation of Hanuma Vihari displacing him in the Test side, more so since Rohit Sharma is a surety. Both Vihari and Rahane featured in India’s last three Tests in Australia. But that was more incidental than out of choice. In Sydney, it was because Sharma had skipped the Test to be with his newborn daughter. In Perth, Rohit was injured. And in Melbourne, Vihari was drafted in as a contingency opener.
The Andhra batsman, though, did little to harm his burgeoning reputation as a resolute middle-order alternative. His 64, in stark contrast to Rahane’s 54, was all poise and fluency. A classic long-form knock, wherein he batted as batting is traditionally meant to be in this format. All through, the tempo was the same, neither striking a boundary-spree not getting into a shell. Apart from a couple of Perry’s sharp away-turning deliveries, nothing tormented Vihari. He seemed impregnable before Fraser’s off-break took off from a crack to graze his edge en route to the short-leg fielder.
While these two outings might not turn out to be definitive in deciding between them, the figures could be factored in. Vihari’s read 37 and 64. Rahane’s 1 and 54.
Brief scores: India 297/5 declared and 174/5 in 70 overs (Hanuma Vihari 64, Rahane 54). West Indies A 181 all out in 56.1 overs and 47 for three. Match drawn.
This article appeared in the print edition with the headline ‘Ajinkya Rahane squanders start, Hanuma Vihari pushes his case’
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