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Robin Uthappa and Ajinkya Rahane both had plenty to play for and prove in Mirpur, and they grabbed their opportunities with aplomb
Alagappan Muthu in Mirpur
June 15, 2014
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.
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