Bangladesh v India, 1st ODI, Mirpur June 15, 2014

Uthappa, Rahane make chances count

Robin Uthappa and Ajinkya Rahane both had plenty to play for and prove in Mirpur, and they grabbed their opportunities with aplomb

Ajinkya Rahane tapped his chest and gazed skyward, as if paying thanks for the comfort he felt at the crease. The occasional punch did scuttle one of the guards at the 30-yard circle, but a lash over extra cover and a belt over midwicket against Masrafe Mortaza assured him there was no cause for worry. The requisite 5.39 per over was hardly a chore, and at the other end, Rahane had a partner who was matching his calm, yet palpable belief.

Robin Uthappa had spent six years divorced from ODI cricket. The man who lost his place was a basher and was content with that role. A limited defensive technique brought him down, and eventually out of national selection.

But the man who strode out to bat today looked quite settled. Though his back-and-across movement remained, Uthappa's bat face was markedly fonder of displaying the maker's name. He had enlisted the aid of a personal coach, was patient enough to cultivate a tighter game, translated that into productive performances- three List A tons in 2014 alone - and waited for his chance. Having finally earned it, Uthappa celebrated his comeback with an important fifty but was adjudged lbw despite an inside edge.

A ferocious spell of rain and some miraculous drainage in Dhaka reduced the 273 target down to 150 in 26 overs. The pitch, having slumbered under moisture-laden covers for two and a half-hours, lent bite to the spinners.

Another umpiring error returned Cheteshwar Pujara to the pavilion the second ball after resumption. The burden grew a touch heavier on Rahane's shoulders. Fifty was needed off nine overs. However, once Rahane nudged to his half-century, he immediately clubbed a Shakib Al Hasan short ball over cow corner to ease the jitters. Ambati Rayudu started briskly and India were cruising again.

But then the mistake came, with 15 needed off 24. Rahane grimaced in disappointment and with head bowed, tried restraining the lash he had attempted. Suresh Raina, his captain crossed him on his way to the middle and finished the job.

This tour, as Raina had stated, was about learning the depth India have in limited-overs cricket. They will face comparatively harsher environs in England later this year and then the coup de gras in Australia.

Rahane and Uthappa - who were rather unlucky not to raise a hundred partnership - chose a good time to display their thirst. They were circumspect without being bogged down, backed themselves to clear the infield at appropriate times, and also concentrated on snatching a few quick singles. A marked difference from how Bangladesh progressed in their first 10 overs to post a measly 34.

A knock-on effect of discovering a useful reserve opener might be the return of Rohit Sharma to the role he feels most comfortable in. His duet with Shikhar Dhawan, while forced, had served India's balance well. He too enjoyed the extra pace on the ball and knowing his place in the XI was secure, he was able to lay the groundwork for the middle order to work on. Should a natural opening batsman take over in his stead, Rohit can return to do what is natural to him - man the No.5 position where he averages 45 in 24 matches. Most teams would attest to the advantage of having specialists. Only MS Dhoni can do an MS Dhoni. Only Dale Steyn can do a Dale Steyn.

Rahane made his case with care. He has been a perennial tourist with India sides. Perhaps the experience was on his mind when he looked to the heavens after those two crunching boundaries. Finding them has always been his strongest criticism- that he allows the bowler too many deliveries to work him over and that his orthodoxy enables the opposition to dry up the singles.

The pitch was slow, but coupled with the new ball, it was not the most docile. The lessons learned from T20 cricket were on view in each of the boundaries he hit. Sometimes the good balls had to go too, and he ventured down the wicket to help with that.

India eased to 50 in the ninth over and to emphasise it, Uthappa launched a comfortable six over midwicket. Although IPL cannot be construed as the most effective practice for international cricket, the confidence gained from finishing the top-scorer and cultivating a nigh unbeatable record of nine consecutive 40-plus scores was clear in his time at the crease.

Uthappa was not hurried. That forward press was as emphatic as ever and Ziaur Rahman's trundles were dispatched to midwicket without having to shift his weight back. He was among the guests at KSCA's platinum jubilee celebrations in August 2013, flashing smiles and obliging autograph hunters. When he was wished a speedy return, he had remarked, "By the end of the year."

Rahane was a rung above him in consideration but not good enough to break into the XI. "When I was not playing I was learning from them as well," he had said after completing a maiden Test ton in New Zealand. "What improvements they have made to their game, what kind of shots they play and how they play in different situations. Definitely I learned a lot." Rahane knows the time is ripe to put his knowledge to use. Uthappa, having previously stated a yearning to help his country win on the international stage, will hardly argue that he is in the same boat.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Naresh on June 17, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    The Indian test squad to England squad was selected hastily. There is NO DOUBT THAT UTHAPPA should have been the first name out of the hat for the openers slot. Why are the selectors always out of sync with form players. Having DHAWAN as the other opener would make a good left/right combo. Pujara, Kohli and Rahane should come next. Two players to test out for the future are Manoj Tiwari and Sandeep Sharma. Quite frankly I would have preferred Praveen Kumar as well - if you look at past matches Praveen Kumar, Sreesanth (wasted talent) and Zaks were our best bowlers. We need a GOOD PACE LEFT ARMER - this is the vacant slot that can never be filled.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2014, 6:13 GMT

    I think for more balance , team India Need Four stable batsman in top 4. These could be: Gambhir, Pujara, Rahane, Dhawan, Uthappa & Rohit. Virat already fixed his place. For No.5 & 6 fixed by Raina & Dhoni, so not competition is there. For No .7 Competition would be Jadeja & Ashwin. For No.8 will play with genuine spinner H.Singh. For 9,10,11 Three fast bowlers competition would be Bhuvi, Aaron, Yadav & Shami.

  • Android on June 16, 2014, 23:42 GMT

    @Muhammed Parvez- Do you remember that 2003 World cup match which was played at centurion between India and Pakistan? That's Rahul Dravid for you..He won us the match after our top order was dismissed.. Nobody can do what Rahul can do.. Be calm and score heavily.. He has over 10,000 runs in both formats..He's one of the very best in ODIs.. What abt Inzamam? How could you not run? How could you have a world record of run outs? He was extremely unfit but still played, High level of corruption in Pakistan could be the reason for it?

  • Ashok on June 16, 2014, 19:29 GMT

    @SandhyaMohan: Opening pair in England has already been decided by the Selectors. They have Dhawan, Gambhir & Vijay as the 3 openers. Dhoni makes the final choice between these 3. On the other hand if you are asking for our Opinion, My first choice for the opening batsman is always from the guys whose "current form" is at its peak Right Now - Robin Uthappa. Dhawan is not in great form but somehow gets about 20 runs. I don't know if he will do so in England. He is my second choice & Vijay my 3rd. Rahane is more of a middle order batsman who has been converted into an opener like Rohit. Gambhir is "proven compulsive poker" of the balls outside the off stump- is the worst choice of opening bat. It appears he has been chosen more on "emotional grounds" by the Selectors. In my opinion Gambhir & Binny should give way to Uthappa & Umesh Yadev.

  • Ashok on June 16, 2014, 18:33 GMT

    India needs a start like this in their England Tour from its openers. Can Dhawan & Vijay/Gambhir provide a century opening partnership? Uthappa is at his peak form & needs to utilise his best in England rather than ignore him. If India get a flying start like this, they can score 500 total in Test matches in England. A strong middle order- Pujara, Kohli, Rohit, Dhoni & Rahane needs good opening stand, to click. Otherwise they are exposed to the opening bowlers in the first few overs of the innings. Secondly, B.Kumar is a fine pace bowler made for England conditions. He needs another pace bowler with real pace to operate in tandem with him- None better than Yadev, also in excellent form. Shami & Aaron are OK but not consistent. So India has again gone down a notch in pace too. Even when Uthappa has made his chances count, the fact remains that he is not in the Indian Test squad. When the "in-form opener" cannot even make a 18 player cut, there is something wrong with the Selection!

  • uncle bob on June 16, 2014, 17:44 GMT

    India should not waste Pujara in ODIs. He is a test specialist and should be played in tests only. ODI failures will affect his confidence badly. I am seriously unimpressed by his ODI batting.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 15:33 GMT

    Like I said on no of forums that a test specialist is more often limited over liability bcz others have to cover for his low SR.................Pujara is anther Dravid .............Dravid's low SR put extra pressure on Sachin & Gangully whose carries suffered as a result........................Sachin prosperred only alongside Sehwag as his high SR let Sachin settle & play calmly

  • Dummy on June 16, 2014, 15:10 GMT

    My playing 11 for wc 1.dhawan 2.rahane 3.kohli 4.rohit 5.yuvraj 6.dhoni 7.jadeja 8.harbhajan 9.bhuvi 10.shami 11. Umesh

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    My world cup XI would be: 1. Dhawan 2. Uthappa/ Rahane 3. Gambhir/ Pujara. 4. kohli 5. Rohit/ Raina 6. Dhoni 7. R. Jadeja/ R.Ashwin 8. Harbhajan 9. Bhubhneshwar 10. M.Shami 11. V.Aaron/ U Yadav. World Cup Squad: Batsman: 1. Uthappa 2. Rahane 3. Gambhir 4. Pujara 5. Dhawan 6. Kohli 7.Rohit 8.Raina 9.Dhoni 10. Jadeja 11.Ashwin 12. Harbhajan 13. Bhuvi 14. Shami 15. V.Aaron 16. U. Yadav

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    Still a lot of competition is there. Only Dhoni, Raina & Kohli has fixed the ticket for Austrailia. Otherwise it is gud compettion between for Opening slot , No-4 & 5. I think Harbhajan could also come back before the world cup if Ashwin continue with the same form. Now Competition between amongs them.Uthappa, Gambhir, Dhawan, Rohit, Rahane, Pujara, Raydu & Yuvraj.

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