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Sanjay Manjrekar

What's wrong with Rahul and Rahane?

Their problems seem to be bigger than one or two good innings can dispel

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
The India-West Indies Test series has come and gone. Like the last time West Indies were here, neither match went into the fourth day, as India continued their supreme domination at home. That India beat them so easily despite resting some of their key players should worry West Indies.
India's own worries are different, though. It's all about overseas Tests now. The last frontier left for Indian cricket to conquer is to compete better and win Test matches in countries like South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand. The fans desire this too - they are a bit tired of seeing India win at home and then lose consistently overseas. They want India to be a great team like West Indies and Australia were: teams that won all over the world.
It's not too high or unrealistic an expectation, considering the financial health of India's cricket board, the years the country been playing Test cricket, and the popularity of the sport here. Basically, Indian cricket has got everything going for it.
There were some silver linings in India's recent overseas defeats in South Africa and England. Both series were a lot closer than the results would suggest. The cause for optimism is in the fact that there seems to be only one area that needs improvement for overseas success - the batting.
For a batting country like India, this may seem strange: that they have more batting issues than bowling ones. Who knows, maybe Indian cricket is changing, what with some quality seamers emerging. In fact, there now are more world-class bowlers in the India squad than batsmen, a rare scenario indeed.
So were the batting issues somewhat addressed in the two Tests?
Obviously this series was never going to quite simulate Australian conditions but the two matches were still serious long-format games, better than the ones visiting teams get as warm-up matches these days.
Dropping Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay was a big move. It showed that the selectors were serious about setting things right after the England and South Africa series.
Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal were drafted into the squad. But India missed a trick by not playing Agarwal in at least one of the two games.
The real gain from the series was Shaw. Granted, the pitches were Indian and the opposition attack not the greatest, but you can recognise a special talent when you see one. Shaw looks a player with batting experience beyond his age; he looks like an 18-year-old who has batted as much as the average 22-year-old cricketer has, whether it's in the nets or in matches. He looks a seasoned batsman - very much like a certain 16-year-old I saw in 1989.
Clearly he is an attacking, fast-scoring player, and impressively, he is not trying to bat that way; he is just reacting to balls with a clear mind with no premeditations. The runs and the boundaries come as a by-product of that. (And it was amusing to see a debutant pick a single off the last ball of the over to retain strike for the next over.)
Shaw is a good back-foot player, which augurs well for him overseas. And he plays the ball under his eyes. Balls pitched on off stump, swinging and drawing him forward, will test him. So will the short ball into his ribs, as he likes to stay beside the line of the ball.
If he manages to work around these potential vulnerabilities, India will have a Virender Sehwag-like opener who will quickly transfer pressure onto the opposition. Like Sehwag, Shaw has the ability to be a big impact player in Tests.
Now to the concerns. Namely, KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane.
For two class players, their "out-of-form" situation (an inevitability for any player) is quite unique. Generally when an exceptional batman hits a patch of bad form, eventually an innings comes along that propels him back into form, back to his very best.
Rahul got a hundred in his last innings in England, and Rahane had an 80 and a 50 in that series, in tough conditions. These were innings that should have got them bouncing back into form, into their prime.
Rahul looked scratchy in the three innings he played against an ordinary side on home pitches after the England hundred. Very unusual.
Rahane got some runs in the series but to my eyes he still does not look convincing. He's still not the Rahane we saw and loved from three years ago. Even if not in peak form, a player of his standard should have dominated West Indies on Indian pitches, but he took about four hours to reach 70 in Hyderabad.
His run of poor form and the uncertain batting phase have gone on far too long. For me it started after his 188 against New Zealand in Indore in 2016. Even when he was playing that innings and ended up getting a big hundred, one could see his beautiful game had developed some chinks.
Why aren't these two batsmen getting back into form like most talented batsmen do after a good innings or two? Such innings are supposed to erase self-doubt and oil up the rusty batting mechanisms.
Well, it has to be mental then. Their self-doubts seem so potent that a couple of fine good innings are not enough to get rid of them: one failure after that and it's back to square one.
So India's batting will still be a worry in Australia, but at least there is some hope in the form of an 18-year-old who might ease the burden of India's lone batting warrior overseas, Virat Kohli.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar