India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi March 21, 2013

Is the wait finally over for Rahane?

A debut has eluded the Mumbai batsman despite a prolonged stint in the Test squad, but that could change in the Delhi Test

Ajinkya Rahane has been a part of India's Test squads for about 16 months. In the 16 Tests India have played since Rahane was named in India's squad for the home Test series against the West Indies, seven players (R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, R Vinay Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan), including a specialist batsman and a spin-bowling allrounder, have made their debut. Two prolific batsmen (Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman) have retired, two established openers (Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir) have been axed, and two more batsmen (Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay) who returned to the team seem to have made most of their opportunities. Virat Kohli has gone from being a fringe member to being the next in line for the Test captaincy.

Amid all this chopping and changing in the XI, there has been one constant: no matter who the openers are and who bats at No. 6, Rahane has been a permanent drinks-fetcher and substitute fielder.

Three times during his prolonged period as a Test squad member, Rahane's debut was expected by most of the Indian cricket fraternity. Still, while the Jadejas and Dhawans have been rewarded with a Test cap within a week after being called up, Rahane is still waiting for his chance.

With Shikhar Dhawan injuring his fingers on debut last week, Rahane stakes the first claim on the spot vacated, and could also end Mumbai's wait for a Test debutant since Ramesh Powar back in 2007. "I just hope he gets his chance this time around at the Kotla," Ajit Agarkar, Mumbai's Ranji captain, said. "Nobody will doubt the fact that he thoroughly deserves it."

For most of these 16 months, Rahane has been shuttling between domestic and international arena as frequently as he used to change local trains during his growing-up years in Mumbai. Yet, he has averaged 48.72 this domestic season. The fact that it's Rahane's lowest average for a season since making his first-class debut in 2007-08 shows his terrific record.

Still, that's not been enough for him to break into the eleven. For the first four years, the national selectors ignored him since they were never sure "whether he is a middle-order batsman or opener". Then, after he showed promise during his limited opportunities in the limited-overs leg of the England tour in 2011, the selection panel chaired by K Srikkanth told him to be prepared to bat "anywhere between No. 1 and 6".

And then, once Srikkanth passed on the baton to Sandeep Patil, the selectors decided - in consultation with Rahane, hopefully - that Rahane was best suited to bat in the middle order. As a result, though he opened Mumbai's innings in the 2011-12, the Mumbai team management was asked to utilise him at No. 3 this season.

Former India batsman Praveen Amre, during whose five-year association with the Mumbai Ranji team Rahane burst on to the first-class scene, feels Rahane is unnecessarily criticised for shuffling his batting position. "During my stint [as the Mumbai coach], we used him as an opener as well as at No. 3," Amre said. "And he proved us right all the time. He is one of the few batsmen who can adapt to batting at the top of the order and in the middle order."

Agarkar also feels that Rahane's strength of being flexible about his batting position doesn't get due credit. "To be honest, it doesn't matter whether he opens the innings or bats in the middle order," Agarkar said. "Wherever he bats, he always scores runs, which seals the deal for him."

Despite waiting in the wings for well over a year, none of the Mumbai team members have seen him flustered during this period. The reason, according to Dhawal Kulkarni, his usual room-mate while playing for Mumbai, is "his focus". "He keeps things really simple," Kulkarni said. "He knows very well that he has to be patient till his chance comes and make sure he keeps on doing what he does the best and loves the most - to keep on scoring consistently. And it works for him."

Rahane averages an astonishing 62.04 after 100 first-class innings. So what sets him apart from the rest? "Not too many youngsters around are as hardworking as him. It reflects in everything he does on the field," Agarkar said.

While his approach has helped him through the wait for the Test cap, his perseverance hasn't paid off with everything that he has done. "During the Emerging Players tournament in Australia [in 2009], we used to cook for each other. And invariably every time he used to goof it up," Kulkarni recalled.

No doubt Kulkarni will be the first one to be ready to cook a dinner for his friend if he finally gets the Test cap at the Kotla on Friday.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vishwas on March 22, 2013, 3:09 GMT

    @maddy20 i am not against tiwary, in fact i want him also to be in the test team... infact i can see Rahane, pujara, kohli, tiwary , dhawan should be commendable batting line up for the years to come..... if you see rahanes's record in the chances he got against england in england he did quite wellll...... its just the odd games he failed where he got oppurtunities after a nearly year gap..... and please dont expect a guy to score century every time he was given a chance in odd game..... my point is only with ROHIT SHARMA( he got way too many oppurtunities in ODI) and RAINA( he got n nuber of oppurtunities in tests) if those number of chances were given to either of RAHANE or TIWARY they could have been permanent slot in middle order now.....

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 2:46 GMT

    I would like Rahane to open tomorrow and play Raina at No.05.If Sachin decides to quit, then he can play tomorrow. But we need him for SA tour, so, Sachin shud rest for this match. With SA tour in mind, we have not tried our third opener yet, yes by indications i feel selectors will go with Gambhir for that spot. So, Rahane has to make up his mind about opening. If Rahane is confident abt opening then i would try him out before SA tour. Also, i think Raina is very lucky to this opportunity, with Dhawan, Gauti & Manoj all being not fit..i think this should be final chance for next 1 yr in test matches. My team for tomorrow - Vijay, Rahane, Pujara, Kohli, Raina, Dhoni, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvi, Ishant & Ohja. My XI for SA tour first two matches - Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Sachin, Kohli, Dhoni, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvi, Ishant & Umesh. Rahane (3rd opener), Tiwary (middle order), Ohja (2nd specialist spinner), Praveen/Irfan/Zaheer, Shami, Ishwar/Awan

  • ravi on March 22, 2013, 2:36 GMT

    Rahane was India's top scorer in Emerging Players' tournament 2 years back. I think this was played in Australia. He also played well in England during India A series, if I am right, so I don't think we can categorize him as not a good player outside India. In fact, he played well in onedayers in England. I know he failed in 1days in England series in India but I won't judge him based on those few matches. The only place, he failed (amid high expectations) was in West Indies series of India A, where he scored just one 50, whereas Pujara was top scorer. In fact, that series turned out to be much closer than expected, where India scrapped thru for 2-1 victory. Anyway, whether you consider quality of bowling or pitches, I rate performance in Australia and England higher over that in West Indies. All in all, I think he is a test match player than a one-dayers but you know our selectors, right? They are not good at choosing the right platform for the entry of these players.

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    I don't know a lot about this guy other than looking at his stats, but as an Australian looking in, how does a guy with a FC average over 62 after such a long time not get a look in? It's not like he had one good FC season, he's been piling on runs every yea, why haven't the Indian selectors picked him already???

  • Amit on March 22, 2013, 1:54 GMT

    Don't get poor guy's hopes too high...Why do you think Suresh 'Big Hug' Raina has been picked? Dhoni will make Pujara open and Raina will be the No. 5 batsman...

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 1:28 GMT

    Rahane should had been picked in 11 before Murli or Dhavan, this is dirty politics of Indian cricket, they ensured that he doesn't play the domestic cricket by keeping him in team and forced the Mumbai team management to make him play in middle order so he doesn't get a chance as opener. Indian team management is trying to create pressure on Sachin to retire by keeping Rahane in standby. this team is only of Dhoni and Srinivasan. I am still surprise that Dhoni is caption even after loosing 8 test matches and now people are calling him great caption because he beat inexperienced Aus in India ...what a joke.

  • Aditya on March 22, 2013, 1:15 GMT

    Rahane definitely deserves a look in, better late than never. He is a good batsman with a good technique. He is also a handy fielder. But Raina's (Dhoni's apple of the eye) inclusion in the squad is worrying. Knowing Dhoni, he might well select Raina and ask him to open (remember, Raina had said not so long ago that he could like to open in tests). Dhoni's explanation could be simple, if one Jadeja is good, two is even better! Raina can bat, bowl, and even field better than Jadeja - so good luck Rahane, you can continue to serve drinks and display your fielding prowess when some VIP decides to not take the field after being in the sun for more than an hour!

  • Dummy4 on March 22, 2013, 0:55 GMT

    rahana is not gonna get a chance in the playing XI. raina will play as no 6 and pujara will open the innings. Rahana is more of a T20?ODI player. i dont think he has the temperament to play test innings. i have seen him flashing at wide deliveries. all his ODI innings were short.let him play more ODIs and prove that he can play long innings.

  • VaRUN on March 21, 2013, 20:46 GMT

    Rahane is the next Badri. He will get 1 or 2 chances after SRT retires in 2015 and then he will be immediately dropped at the tender young age of 31.

  • Ashok on March 21, 2013, 19:20 GMT

    @Maddy: You are absolutely correct about Tiwary being the technically sound batsman. I always tipped Pujara, Kohli & Tiwary as the replacements for Dravid, SRT & VVS. Tiwary would grossly improve his chances if he works hard on his leg spinners & develops them to Test standard. So many middle order batsmen now available are also good bowlers- although it is "fashionable" to call them part time bowlers. Guys like Raina, Jadeja, Rohit Sharma are all in this category. Even Kohli was attempted to be converted into a part time bowler by Dhoni!. Jadeja has now advanced from part time bowler into a regular bowler in Tests. This has put Ojha's spot in jeopardy, unless he learns to become a great batsman! That is the modern trend in India. At one time India had 4 specialist bowlers +6 batsmen + an All roumder. Specialist bowlers & batsmen are getting rare now. Current Trend: Top 4 may be specialist Batsmen & bottom 2 specialist bowlers- rest pseudo all rounders. I don't know where Rahane Fits!

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