Rahane won't be a wrong 'un in South Africa

Virat Kohli faced 186 balls on the first day of the Kotla. Not one of them went past his bat without his wish. Not once did a bowler manage to beat his bat when he played at a ball. M Vijay was beaten only nine times out of the 267 times he faced up.

As far as winter days go, they don't get better than this in Delhi. The air quality index was merely "very poor". The sun managed to break through the haze fairly early. By the time the sun hits it peak, it was pleasant to be out. If you happened to be batting at Feroz Shah Kotla, which is right at the mouth of Delhi Gate beyond which lies Old Delhi with its fantastical world of culinary delights, there was a buffet on.

Not for Ajinkya Rahane, though. Just as he would have started to hope he didn't have to go out and bat out the last 15-20 minutes, Lakshan Sandakan - horribly inconsistent for the rest of the day - began to nail his wrong' un. Vijay fell with four overs to go.

Rahane had all the joys of stress-free batting to look forward to on day two, but he had to deny himself for these four overs first. And then, on a day in which the bat was rarely beaten, Rahane was beaten in the air, dragged across by the drift, and then off the pitch because he hadn't picked the wrong' un out of the hand. The combination meant he had play far out in front of his body, which dragged the back foot out, and he was stumped for 1.

Rahane now has seven runs in the whole series, and it is possible India might not bat again. This is the first time in his 43-Test career that he has gone without an impactful innings in a whole series. Even when he didn't score too many against Australia earlier this year, he scored a crucial fifty in partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara, which turned the series around.

"Rahane will be the first one to admit he likes pace, and he doesn't like spin"

If this is an unfamiliar space for Rahane to be in, there is familiarity too. He will be the first one to admit he likes pace, and he doesn't like spin. He has previously managed to find a way past spin, but it doesn't come naturally to him. He has to work hard to earn those runs against spinners. Home pitches have not been his biggest ally either. His last home century came more than a year ago.

As Sanjay Bangar, India's assistant coach, said, Rahane will be hurting, but it is a sign of short memories that he is being considered a concern going into South Africa, because, well, it is all about South Africa, isn't it? "Rahane's horrid form continues," says the clip of his wicket on the host webcaster's site. He scored a century only four Tests ago, a half-century in the one before that, and two crucial knocks in the low-scoring series before that.

Perhaps Rahane has let his ambitions of playing one-day cricket - and the fact that he has playing more of it this year than earlier - sneak some looseness into his Test game.

On that seaming track in Kolkata, he did play a loose shot to get out when the situation was ripe for a typical Rahane-like innings. Not failing to keep the cut down in Nagpur might be acceptable because sometimes you drop your guard to a loose ball, but here again he played an ordinary shot to a good ball. Not horridly out of form, but Rahane will not be pleased because he is known to be assiduous in his preparations.

Bangar didn't make any excuses on Rahane's part. "He will be disappointed in the manner he got out," he said. "He is somebody who works hard on his game like all players do. Maybe last match and this match, he erred in shot selection. I think that will be hurting him definitely but he is a quality player."

Bangar was quick to point out, though, that Rahane was not a big concern when it comes to South Africa. "His overseas record is phenomenal," he said. "He is one of the few players who has scored in every overseas country we have toured. That shows the quality he possesses. And you know he is a quality player who has performed when the chips are down for the team. He will be hurting with the kind of dismissals he has had, and he is too good a player to not making runs for a long time."

There might or might not be another innings - depending on how the pitch plays and whether India get a lead big enough to enforce a follow-on - but without doubt it would have been encouraging for Rahane if he had got runs. It just makes you feel good about your game. Especially when almost everything seems to be falling as much in place as it can: Cheteshwar Pujara has presented himself as a slip option, Rohit Sharma has scored runs, all the bowlers have taken wickets, and Hardik Pandya has been rested.

That we are even talking about it is because of the runs everyone else has been scoring, and there will be only five slots for specialist batsmen in the first Test in Cape Town. One of the three openers is having to sit out despite scoring runs. While the team continues to believe in Rahane, while he has to be one of the five batsmen for Cape Town, the low returns might have put him under pressure. When he sits and visualises his next Test, a thought he might not have grappled with for long might just creep in: what if I don't get too many here?