Matches (34)
IND v AUS (1)
Abu Dhabi T10 (6)
BAN v NZ (1)
Legends League (2)
IND v ENG (W-A) (1)
Hazare Trophy (18)
Sheffield Shield (3)
SA v WI (A tour) (1)
WBBL 2023 (1)
Sanjay Manjrekar

Why Rahane shouldn't be batting at No. 3

His game is built around good hands, ball sense, and not much foot movement. His rightful position is at No. 5, where he has done well

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
On a flat pitch, if there is a length ball a foot and a half outside the off stump, Ajinkya Rahane will go for it, even if it appears risky  •  Getty Images

On a flat pitch, if there is a length ball a foot and a half outside the off stump, Ajinkya Rahane will go for it, even if it appears risky  •  Getty Images

We like to typecast cricketers, pigeonhole them, and at the first chance, compare them to former greats.
So after Rahul Dravid retired, Cheteshwar Pujara became the new Dravid. After Pujara failed to sustain that comparison for long, it's now Ajinkya Rahane's turn to be the new Rahul Dravid.
Rahane is so much like Dravid. They look similar on the field: down-to-earth, extremely committed cricketers with a low-profile presence in the team. It's only when they take one of their sharp close-in catches that you suddenly notice them on the field.
Rahane plays for Rajasthan Royals, an IPL team that Dravid has made his own. That has further strengthened the relationship of teacher and pupil in the minds of cricket fans.
Both Dravid and Rahane are quite classical in the way they bat, both have a penchant for big scores, for putting their heads down and churning out hundreds. Rahane had 20 first-class hundreds to his name before he played for India, Dravid had 15.
At what position should Ajinkya Rahane bat in Tests?
3 votes
No. 3
No. 4
No. 5
No. 6
Now that Rahane has also become a brilliant slip fielder, the comparisons to Dravid are completely unavoidable. What harm is there in this, you might ask. After all, it is a playful indulgence of cricket fans. It's just that I get a bit concerned when the comparison starts having an influence on what position Rahane bats at for India.
I believe that for all their similarities, Dravid's and Rahane's batting styles are completely different, and it's batting styles more than anything else that must decide what number you bat at.
Maybe Rahane has played his last innings at No. 3 for a while, but the fact that he batted in that position in two Tests in Sri Lanka after a brilliant run at No. 5 shows that the team management thinks he is perfectly capable of getting runs there, just like Dravid did.
Granted, Rahane got a superb hundred batting at three at the P Sara Oval, but in subcontinental conditions any batsman with some pedigree will get runs, no matter what position he bats at. And Rahane is a batsman of extraordinary pedigree. Indeed, it is for this reason that he must be handled with great care by Indian cricket.
At this stage of their careers, Rahane has proved himself a more reliable batsman in all conditions than Virat Kohli. Remember England?
Also, when you are building a Test team, like India are currently, the side must be composed keeping in mind the toughest challenges they will encounter going forward. For India's batting units, the acid test has always been tours to England, South Africa and Australia, and this is where Rahane will be precious at five.
Now why am I insisting Rahane is a No. 5 and not a No. 3? Let me explain.
Having watched both Rahane and Dravid closely, I can now visualise this scenario. Imagine a hard new cricket ball, bowled on a good length on a lively pitch, a foot and a half outside the off stump, to both Dravid and Rahane.
Rahane will tell himself, as the bowler runs in, to leave such balls alone, for he knows he can be tempted into playing at a delivery that is well outside the off stump - with an angled bat at that, and without moving his feet too much. That is Rahane's natural instinct and that is what he is trying to curb by talking to himself.
In fact, in the first innings at the P Sara, batting at No. 3, his instincts got the better of him when he edged an even wider ball from Dhammika Prasad to be caught at slip.
As for Dravid, he would easily leave that kind of delivery alone without a fuss; that was his natural instinct. He didn't have to keep drilling the thought into his head - such things come automatically to batsmen like him.
Now let's imagine the same delivery on a flat pitch. Rahane will most likely drive the ball beautifully off the back foot or from the crease, on the up, with an angled bat, for four. Bit risky you might think, but Rahane has got four delightful runs and the crowd loves him for it. As for Dravid, again, even on a flat pitch, he would leave that ball well alone outside the off stump.
The fundamental difference between Dravid and Rahane is that Dravid needed his feet to be close to the line of the delivery for him to attack or defend. That was Dravid's style of batting since the time he was young, and his instincts and reactions as a batsman were shaped by that approach.
Rahane, on the other hand, does not need his feet to be too close to the line of the ball because he has these wonderful hands that he is able to put to good use. It's this aspect of his batting that took me by surprise when I first saw him in the IPL - the splendid ball sense and ability to hit fours and sixes off good-length deliveries without moving his feet too much. It is for this reason that Rahane looks perfectly at home in T20 cricket, while Dravid never did.
Those beautiful hands and that exceptional ball sense of Rahane also come into play when he is taking those superb close-in catches.
The fundamental difference between Dravid and Rahane is that Dravid needed his feet to be close to the line of the delivery for him to attack or defend
Another thing about Rahane is that he has the tendency to play the "first line" of the ball. This means he tends to commit to the line on which the ball is when it is about halfway down the pitch. Dravid generally played the "second line", which means he didn't commit to a shot till the very end. So when the ball swung or seamed late and changed its original line, Dravid was ready for it.
Players who are naturals at numbers one, two and three always play the second line; they don't go towards the ball much, instead waiting for it to arrive. M Vijay is a natural top-order player of this sort.
Rahane is a much better batsman playing the second new ball rather than the first, because at the start of his innings he goes feeling for the ball a bit. But when he is set, he can really dominate that second new ball. I vividly remember how he went after Dale Steyn with the second new ball during the innings of 96 in Durban in December 2013.
Dravid was a gifted defensive player, while Rahane is a gifted strokeplayer.
Mentally, Dravid was one of the toughest batsmen this game has seen, while Rahane does not give me the impression that he may ever become like that. It's also common for cricketers with a lot of natural talent to not be as mentally tough or disciplined as those less talented - barring a few exceptions, like Sachin Tendulkar.
By being batted at No. 3, I thought Rahane was denied his rightful runs at No. 5 in the final Test in Sri Lanka.
Come to think of it, when you look purely at batting styles, Rahane is actually closer to VVS Laxman than to Dravid. And we know from what number VVS got all those priceless runs for India.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here