Ajinkya Rahane (born 6 June 1988) is an Indian international cricketer and former captain of the Indian national team in all formats. He plays primarily as a middle-order batsman in the Test format and as a top-order batsman in white-ball forms of the game. He was also the vice-captain of the India national cricket team in Tests until the home series against New Zealand in 2021 after which he was removed. The cricketer has been struggling as a player lately. Let us look at how and why this has been the case.
The beginning of the struggles :
India had just lost Cheteshwar Pujara and lunch was still 15 minutes away. Duanne Olivier- playing his first game for South Africa since his return from Kolpak, got this ball to climb up sharply from just short of length, kissed the shoulder of Pujara’s bat, and lobbed towards point safely into Bavuma’s hand.
After the openers managed to keep the probing South African bowlers at bay for 14 overs and forge a 36 run partnership on a Wanderers pitch which was offering enough, India was reduced to 49/2. With Virat Kohli missing the match due to back-spasm, Ajinkya Rahane walked in at number 4.
But unlike most of Rahane’s innings in the past few years, where usually there is a buildup of 20–30 runs before he gets out, there wasn’t one. It was rather an innocuous delivery on 5th stump which a batsman with a clear mind would have shouldered arms to. Instead, Rahane just had a hopeful, rather hopeless poke at it and was snaffled neatly in the gully by Keegan Petersen.
Despondent, Ajinkya Rahane walked back to the pavilion, his face carried the look of a befuddled man- he knew it was a poor shot choice, at the poorest of times in the context of the match and probably his cricket career, and yet he was found wanting.
The Clamour around Pujara & Rahane, especially Rahane’s place in the side has been building for a while now and it seems that with his recent failures, including the home series against New Zealand, decision about his place in the side is imminent. It also reflected in the selectors’ decision to not name him the vice-captain for the series against South Africa — keeping the door ajar for the snub, although quite subtly.
“After these two dismissals, one can say that they probably have just next innings, both Pujara and Rahane to save their Test careers. There have been questions asked about their place in the team, and now with these two dismissals, they have just one innings left — the next innings. Looks like the way India are going, there will be a next inning for them to score something and maybe keep their place in the team” — Sunil Gavaskar, on air.
One can argue that most of Ajinkya Rahane’s career has been like that, particularly these last 4 years. When India last visited South Africa, Rahane’s spot was under the scanner after his poor showing against Sri Lanka at home. His horrible returns of 17 runs in 5 innings saw him lose out his number 5 position to an “in-form” Rohit Sharma.
In his defense, Ajinkya Rahane was India’s one of the premier overseas batter during that period & he was almost certain to start the 1st test at Capetown. Instead, he featured in only the last test at Wanderers and scored a gutsy 48 on a “dangerous” surface allowing India to set a very competitive, ultimately match-winning target.
Breakdown of Rahane’s cricket career using cricket analytics :
Ajinkya Rahane’s cricket career in a way has been an enigma in itself. Of the first 18 tests that he played, 17 were overseas-averaging an impressive 46.37 in those away tests. He did make up for the lost time & went on a run-making spree at home against the visiting South African & New Zealand sides, notching up 3 centuries and a 77.
That was the only time when his average at home & away seemed to converge as his performance at home nose-dived post this surge & failed to regain the same vigor. By the time the Southafrican series arrived, his average at home was an underwhelming 33.6.
Thus it can be said, with the advantage of hindsight that the decision to drop him for the Capetown test in the first place was a strange one & decision to drop him after a lean home series was even stranger as Rahane was never a prolific run-scorer at home. Even if we look at his career in its entirety, his average at home has only marginally improved to 35.7.
Yet it’s not difficult to see why Ajinkya Rahane, for the large part of his career was almost un-droppable and why the team management showered him with their unwavering faith. So much so, that a guy who came in for the injured Rahane, scored an emphatic triple hundred but was dropped the moment Rahane recovered.
It’s a reflection of the respect that Rahane earned over the years, a testament to the value that he brings & as much as it’s baffling that a player of his stature, even in his prime had performed mediocrely at home, it’s also a compliment that he faired much better away from home almost at any given point in his entire cricket career.
You can ask any team and they would kill for a player like him, especially in an era when away draws are cherished like series victories. It’s a luxury to have such a player in the dressing room & it’s not surprising that he was a natural fit into the side whose priorities were set — winning consistently away from home.
Moreover, Rahane has repaid every bit of that faith by producing gems time & again. His remarkable century at Lord’s on a green surface, then backing it up with another counter-attacking century at Melbourne to bail India out or his crucial 126 in Colombo where he doled out his full repertoire against the spinners.
Even more recently against South Africa where his remarkable 115 was overshadowed by Rohit’s 212, after weathering a tricky initial duel against their pacemen, or his series-defining captain’s knock at MCG, now etched indelibly in Indian cricket psyche or his least talked about but equally crucial knock of 61 at Lord’s.
Ajinkya Rahane made it a habit of churning out tough runs & restoring calm in the chaos. Generally, home runs act as a cushion in case things go south on overseas tours. Rahane never had that cushion & he doesn’t have one right now.
Average Progression :
The problem is those gems are studded somewhere among long stretching ruts of inconsistent performances, very similar & representative of his knocks of late where his 20s & 30s are studded with exquisite & authoritative slap-drives through the covers. Statistically, this is Rahane’s lowest point in his cricket career after 21st innings when his average plunged to 38.94.
Batsmen at No.5 vs Ajinkya Rahane :
Before the Wanderer’s test, he averaged 20.82 in the last year. If we pit him against the №5 batters of other teams, the numbers aren’t very encouraging either. Yet it’s important to put things in perspective as well — apart from Ben Stokes & Rahane no one played as many innings on as tricky surfaces & as dramatically varying conditions from the bouncy Johannesburg to the turner at Ahmedabad -14 of the 18 innings Rahane played in that period were in NewZealand, England, & Australia, even in India conditions were not as conducive for batters.
Anjinkya Rahane’s illustrious castle was built on the foundation of overseas performances & it was bound to collapse at some point as scoring consistently away from home has been as challenging as it has ever been.
Ajinkya Rahane has shown glimpses of the Rahane of old — one who would silently wrestle away the momentum from the opponents & eventually the game, especially when you least expect him to. His knock in the 2nd innings at Wanderers had every bit of that but the looming question is not how many but how often.
An even bigger question is what the team management & the selectors think. India is due to play 11 tests, including the Wanderers test, in 2022 with 6 of them at home, 2 in Bangladesh. Thus it’ll be interesting to see if the management/selectors blood in fresh faces in the side, to ease them into the international arena before the rigorous cycle of the oversea tests commences or they choose to stick with the proven performers.
Ajinkya Rahane – Conclusion :
Ajinkya Rahane will be 34 this year in June but as they say, age is just a number. But age coupled with his current form provides context. I will keep him for his ability to keep bouncing back — reflective of his karate lessons, for the joy that he brings when he is on the song, for the subtle straight punches which make weekdays a bit better to live. Ajinkya Rahane — One of my favourite players to watch in the pre-Pant era for the excitement that his innings brought with it, let’s hope that he keeps reminding himself to “watch the ball” doesn’t matter how long the rope is.
Cricket Analytics is a huge part of the sport of cricket today. A major reason that the struglles of Ajinkya Rahane have been broken down so simply in this article is from the data collected by the use of cricket analytics to breakdown his cricket career. If you wish to break down a player’s game or his career using cricket analytics click on the link below.
Author – Pranav Anand