A light in India's darkness
Ajinkya Rahane has gone from being India's forgotten man to their man of the moment in the previous ten days. He's played only four matches in England but made a favourable impression in each one: after the 19 against Leicestershire, he made 61 on Twenty20 debut in Manchester, followed by an aggressive 40 on ODI debut at Chester-le-Street, and 54 in Southampton. The numbers aside, it's Rahane's approach and maturity that has been striking. It's led to questions being asked about why he was not part of India's Test team.
Called into an injury-ridden squad as a replacement for Virender Sehwag, Rahane joined the team a day before the tour match against Leicestershire. He lasted only 13 deliveries the next afternoon but managed to inject optimism into India's batting, which had been toyed with during the 4-0 defeat in the Test series.
Having been trained by former India batsman Praveen Amre, Rahane relies on his solid technique to gain the upper hand over the bowler. He is diminutive - 5'4" - but makes up in batting intelligence what he lacks in physical presence.
At Old Trafford, Stuart Broad and the rest of England's fast bowlers tried to push Rahane on the back foot by bowling several short-pitched deliveries. They were shooting in the dark, though, considering they had never seen Rahane bat. He remained undeterred and got under the ball to pull and hook with power and confidence.
At the Rose Bowl, Broad started with a perfect bouncer, but Rahane swivelled to pull over the deep square-leg boundary for a six. When Jade Dernbach bowled a slower delivery, Rahane waited patiently before glancing to the fine-leg boundary. Against full deliveries, he would move a step back, clear his left foot out of the way before chipping the ball over the in-field.
During the last five years, Rahane has been one of Mumbai's best batsmen at No. 3 and among the top five on India's first-class circuit. Batting with the likes of Wasim Jaffer, a wristy and aggressive batsman and an India Test opener, Rahane learned the art of pacing his innings. He has never been a grafter, though.
Rahane has had immediate impact for India in the limited-over games, constructing useful opening partnerships with Parthiv Patel, something the Test openers could not do. Ther right-left combination, as a result of injuries to Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar, has had stands of 52 39, 82 and 30.
"I had not prepared at all before coming here," Rahane said about his mental preparations for the tour. "I understood the conditions only once I reached here. I was not thinking too much. Obviously there are certain expectations when you play for India and I was nervous to begin with. But all the seniors and team-mates helped me settle down, supported me and gave me good guidance. It felt really good."
Rahane said that after working hard to get to this stage, there was no chance he was going to be casual. "Once I arrived I had a word with [Sachin] Tendulkar, [MS] Dhoni and [Rahul] Dravid. Every one of the seniors said not to think anything except to carry on playing the way I had played to get here." They also asked Rahane to make sure he learned something new from each game.
When asked by a journalist if he'd enjoyed climbing up to the Big Ben during the Indian team's visit to the House of Commons, Rahane did not entertain the question, revealing where his priorities lay. "This is not the time to talk about such stuff. My focus is on doing my best for the team and making sure we win the one-day series."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo