England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day July 17, 2014

Rahane quietly bedding in as India's No. 6

Tough enough to score crucial runs, prepared for innings that don't have proper structure, content with not cashing in on flat ones, Ajinkya Rahane could be just the man for India

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Rahane: Top order laid the platform

When little Ajinkya Rahane used to lug his cricket kit in crowded Bombay local trains, from Dombivli to Victoria Terminus, an hour in fast services, longer in the slow one that stops at every station, it is highly unlikely he wanted to become a No. 6 batsman.

Fathers don't tell their kids, "Son, my only dream is to see you bat at No. 6." No. 6 is not sexy. You don't face the bowlers at their freshest, you don't get to set the tone, you are just reacting to the stage that has been set for you, sometimes really tough conditions even settle down by the time you come in to bat. When the pitch is easy you hardly get to bat; when the pitch is difficult, you get the tail for company. Your No. 6 has to be tough enough to score crucial runs, prepared for innings that don't have proper structure, content with not cashing in on flat ones, and happy with the opener or the No. 4 being the man.

Rahane, although an opener by training, might just be that man for India. He scored this Lord's hundred - special because everybody he knew built Lord's up massively by Wednesday night - from No. 5, but he is a No. 6 for all practical purposes: MS Dhoni comes in immediately after him. That century scored, rescuing India from 145 for 7, Rahane sought to sit back and deflect attention onto others. He kept repeating the innings was thanks to the top-order batsmen who had seen off the most difficult conditions. He thanked Bhuvneshwar Kumar for sticking around with him.

But if you looked up at the players' balcony when he brought up the hundred, with a push for four off James Anderson, England's best bowler and the bowler whose behaviour India have complained officially against, the sight of every member of the squad applauding that hundred told you he was the man. He had weathered the storm, shown enough discipline to score just one run behind square on the off side, played some gorgeous push-drives before lofting Anderson for a delightful six over long-on.

On Wednesday night Rahane had been nervous. Everyone kept reminding him how special a Lord's century could be. He had himself played a nervous shot to get out in the second innings of the last Test, just a nervous poke at a delivery he could have left alone. Rahane is prone to that. He is a nervous starter. He needs to watch for that push lacking intent early in the innings. This was Lord's, the ball was swinging and seaming, and wickets were tumbling at the other end.

Rahane did show signs of those nerves at the start; his first three balls: an edge that fell short of the cordon, beaten outside off, a single off the inside edge. But in the 37th over things clicked. He had faced nine balls by then. Now he began to get a solid forward stride in, and drove at a wide half-volley with an open face. Later in that over, he pushed one down the ground for four. The innings was underway, except that by the time he had faced 38 balls, Rahane had lost Cheteshwar Pujara and Dhoni. Now he would need to change his game.

Rahane didn't change. With every new batsman he had a chat. Were they comfortable if he took the single early in the over? It took you back to that endearing conversation he had with Ishant Sharma in Durban, with the latter saying he didn't want to face Dale Steyn. There, Rahane fell two short of what would have been a maiden century. He says he has made an attempt to not think of the hundred after that.

Ravindra Jadeja and Stuart Binny could not keep him company for long, but Rahane found an ally in Bhuvneshwar, who nearly scored a third fifty of this series. Like VVS Laxman before him, Rahane trusts tailenders, and doesn't try to hog the strike unless they ask him to. He also says he has been watching videos of Michael Hussey to learn how to bat with the tail. One of the important skills while batting with the tail is to be able to play big shots. You never know if the next over will leave you stranded.

Rahane has made that addition to his game of late. About three years ago, some domestic stalwarts used to fear Rahane would not make it because he did not have the bottle or the big shots. In this innings he showed he had both. Bottle in surviving the early spell, big shots when England were waiting for the new ball. His fifty came in the 71st over of the innings with the new ball almost certain to inflict damage. But by the time the new ball came, Rahane had raced along to 74, cutting Liam Plunkett in front of square repeatedly to avoid the third man trap, and pulling him emphatically.

When the new ball arrived, Rahane went after Anderson. Four, six, and he is 88. Four, four, and 98. Discipline, timing, placement, power, aggression had all been on display. When he reached the hundred, Rahane didn't make a big deal out of it. He showed more emotion when Bhuvneshwar got out, to a bit of a shooter. Bhuvneshwar was half way off the ground when Rahane caught up with him, patted his back, a little thank you there, and a big thank you in the press conference. This No. 6 is quietly bedding in.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2014, 12:32 GMT

    At the present scenario , the certainties in the indian team , vijay, kohli, Pujara, Rahane, Dhoni, shami, Bhuvi - the others would be struggling - either need more confidence by persisting or resting them for at least one or two matches. This way the likes of Ashwin, Ishtar pandey. Rohit Sharma , gambhir should also be given opportunities to groom the indian team for future tours and test commitments.

    At least this way we develop more viable alternatives with rich blend of youth and experience. This English tour having a 5 test series, gives a golden chance to do so. Hope Lord Krishna induces the indian cricketing brains trust to do so.

    In short everyone should be given some chances - this way they also have confidence that they are also important and integral part of the Indian team. Otherwise injustice gets done to really good players like Ashwin to a great extent and Ishtar pandey , Rohit Sharma to some extent.

  • Shiv on July 18, 2014, 13:47 GMT

    How many chances did Rahane get vs the ever so talented Rohit Sharma. This is what happens when you give chance to other players too instead of giving a chance to the repeated failures over and over again.

    Very happy for Rahane and wish him luck in future and hope he cements his place for a long time. Time to drop Dhoni now, Jadeja will automatically be dropped if Dhoni goes.

  • Harish on July 18, 2014, 12:33 GMT

    Early days yet, but I hope Rahane grits it out and improves his skills to score more big match innings/hundreds and cements his place in the test team at #5. He looks the only real test batsman besides Pujara and Vijay in this Indian team. If he can settle in, and Pujara too, we just might have found something approaching a replacement for the Dravid-Laxman pairing that made Indian test batting a force to reckon with. But, like I said, early days yet. Too many pretenders waltzing into the Indian team these days, so it'll take a while to separate the men from the boys. Glad I got to watch some quality test match batting courtesy Rahane.

  • Dummy4 on July 18, 2014, 11:16 GMT

    I dont agree with the theory of Rahane settling in No.5 or No.6. Rahane is clearly a No.1-3 batsman. Going by the recent trend it wouldnt be a bad idea to ask Pujara to open and ask Rahane to play in No.3

  • Android on July 18, 2014, 10:20 GMT

    Yes. Rahane need to open with Vijay. Discard Dhawan. Ashwin to replace Jadeja. Bring back Rohit. Test team is ready for India matching to no.1

  • Adhish on July 18, 2014, 9:05 GMT

    Great and sensible batting from Jinx and Bhuvi, really pleasing to the eye. Hope this is just his 2nd of many more hundreds to come for India. The way Jinx celebrated after his century shows how composed and down to earth he is (alike Tendulkar and Dravid), something which the likes of Kohli can learn. Aggression is fine and is required but I dont understand why batsmen have to swear and use choicest of expletives after reaching the 100!

  • Dummy4 on July 18, 2014, 8:39 GMT

    I agree with Beetjie; dont see Dhawan as an opener for India. He struggles so much in overseas conditions and needs a chance or two early in his innings to make any substantial score. Rahane / Gambhir should be opening with Vijay.

    Jadeja is not a test player, period... Ashwin at least shows more application while batting. Of course, Ashwin needs to improve his bowling overseas. Cant see how he would do it without getting opportunities.

    My first eleven would be, Vijay, Rahane, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Dhoni, Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Bhuvi, Ishant, Shami / Ishwar Pandey / Aaron.

    I would prefer having someone other than Rohit at number 6. Rohit has been far too inconsistent. Another batsman need to be identified to keep Rohit honest.

  • Henry on July 18, 2014, 8:04 GMT

    Alas, I fear Rahane's sterling effort here will likely have no influence on the outcome of this match. Recent history has shown that no amount of runs are sufficient for Indian bowlers to defend! This is a shame, because such hard fought centuries are savoured more thoroughly in context of a team win.

  • Dummy on July 18, 2014, 7:12 GMT

    Rahane batted at number 5 and he should remain there. Don't stereotype the player just because he suits your narrative of a number 6 batsman.

  • Dummy4 on July 18, 2014, 7:09 GMT

    Ajinkya Rahane has stamped his arrival with this hundred. And my heart goes out for Bhuvneshwar. He makes the best of any opportunity coming his way. The likes of Jadeja need to learn from Bhuvi. Jadeja has been trusted many a times by Dhoni and selectors for playing the key role of complete all-rounder but has been found wanting on the batting front grossly. He must encash this opportunity to cement his place in the team.