Rahane is a proven cricketer - 'Test' him
18th April 2012 11:16 AM
The first time I met Ajinkya Rahane was in July 2011. I entered the lift of the hotel that I was staying in and bumped into the young cricketer. We exchanged pleasantries, I wished him luck and Rahane, in his polite demeanour, admitted that his outing with India A at the Emerging Players Tournament could end up being a defining moment in his cricketing career.
Our conversation lasted for just a couple minutes - the time it took to travel up four floors - but his words left a lasting impression because he certainly lifted, or should I say 'elevated', himself into the international arena. Post that meeting, Rahane would go on to hammer two centuries in the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia which earned him a place in India's limited-overs squad for the tour of England last year.
Soon after that we met again and this time I listened to him intently. He spoke about his commitment, his need for consistency and the hours he had put in to achieve that focus and concentration. I remember asking him how he managed to put up big scores consistently, and Rahane's reply was: "Many batsmen like to bat for long hours in the nets; I like to bat for long hours in the middle."
To me, that line said it all. Here was a man who knew the worth of his wicket and the value of spending time in the middle. I was already impressed by his batting and the contributions he made for the Mumbai Ranji side, but that day when I sat and spoke to him I was captivated by his grace and patience, qualities which you struggle to find in most contemporary cricketers. Rahane's choice of words reflected an intelligent mind and was testament to the discipline inculcated through years of hard-work.
Rahane made his first-class debut in 2007. The Mohammad Nissar Trophy would be his first outing and playing for Mumbai against Karachi Urban, the 18-year-old hammered 143. His start was as sensational as his rise. His conversions helped Rahane score 1089 runs in just his second Ranji Trophy season for Mumbai, an effort that bolstered the side to their 38th title.
In Rahane's case, his consistency since his debut can be judged by his stats. His numbers do all the talking for him. In 50 first-class matches he has scored 4862 runs with 18 centuries and 18 fifties. He averages 68.47, with a personal best of 265 not out. Equally important are his 11 unbeaten innings - an indicator of his ability to occupy the crease and convert starts.
Now why have I brought up all these numbers? Well the reason is Rahane's unbeaten 103 for Rajasthan Royals a few nights ago in IPL 5. Seeing is believing, as the saying goes, and finally I saw the world waking up to what they should have taken note of a long time ago - acknowledgement that Rahane is a batsman who should be playing for India in all three formats.
Five years of dedication, focus and toil may not have impacted the Indian fan and selectors as much as those 103 runs. Not even the 98 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium was enough to persuade or influence a cricketing pundit of what Indian cricket was missing. "Take a bow, Rahane" is all I heard and have kept hearing since. "Why now?" is all I cried, when it was due quite some time back.
It's a pity that Rahane's 103 counts for more than his 809 runs in Mumbai's successful defence of their title in 2010. It's a shame that his hundreds against the Australians in the tour match in Chandigarh in 2010 went unnoticed and once again it's sad that not many know that a week later he scored a masterful 191 in the second innings of the Irani Trophy. Why is it that a player has to perform in the IPL to grab eyeballs and attention? Why is he is being kept out of the Indian side? Why have five years of sweat and toil earned Rahane only 11 Odis and two Twenty20s? Why does it seem that only after making an impact in a mere 20-over innings, will Rahane now get a big promotion now in this Indian set up?
Rahane's adaptability needs special mention and as irony would have it, a batsman who is classical in his representation and is suited more for the longer version made his international debut in the most unconventional format. Rahane's debut international outing was the Twenty20 match against England at Old Trafford, a match in which he hit a 38-ball 61. What happened to him after that? Well another Twenty20, a few more ODIs only to be dropped for the Australia ODI series.
A batsman who looks like the prospective answer to India's woes in Test cricket is being confined to the four walls of his dressing room which in Indian cricket is called 'learning a lot'. How long will a youngster observe and absorb? How long will I hear, "he will have to wait for his opportunity?" Make no mistake, it's because he got to open for Rajasthan Royals that today, the nation has realised his potential and worth.
It's said that selection is about picking and dropping a player at the right time. Rahane was selected at the right time but certainly dropped at the wrong time. Not just that, he was never played in the most important format - Test cricket. Why are the selectors depriving a flower to bloom? The move defies logic, vision and wisdom. Rahane is conventional in his attitude, yet contemporary in his approach. He is an assorted version of some of the greats and has come across as the most sorted batsman amongst the new lot. His strokeplay is cultured but yet has the ability to thrill the crowds.
Here is a batsman who knows the do's and can adapt around the don'ts. Most of his runs so far in IPL have come in the 'V' region. He enjoys playing through the line with a straight bat and when it's time to get a little more adventurous, Rahane opens up only to play in the 'W'. His shot selection and placement is a lesson to most youngsters that Twenty20 cricket is not about the heaves and the horizontal bat, but the straight bat.
Rahul Dravid's retirement from Test cricket left a void hard to fill, but Rahane opening the batting with Dravid for Rajasthan is a reminder that class rubs on to the other as well. There is a striking resemblance in their temperament and attitude. It is time to honour Rahane with a Test spot. Not for his 103 not out, but for his adaptability, consistency, versatility and class. Rahane has stood the test of times and it's time he is tested in Test cricket. The time is right, the moment is ripe. Let's get ready to welcome a new hero.
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