In the second edition of the now-defunct Mohammad Nisar Trophy in 2007, a 19-year-old caught the eye with a classy 143 against Karachi Urban at Karachi. Such was the conviction in the youngster’s strokeplay that even the seasoned practitioners, who saw the innings, were left in awe of his talent.
He soon made his Ranji debut and stacked up an impressive tally of 487 runs in just seven matches. Later in the season, he caused more ripples with a polished 172 in a Duleep Trophy fixture against an England Lions attack that consisted of bowlers like Monty Panesar, Graham Onions and Liam Plunkett. The promise for greater deeds was there for all to see.
Six seasons later, with 5468 runs in 61 first class matches at an average of nearly 61, Ajinkya Rahane has vindicated the hype that surrounded him during his debut season.
The 2008-09 season saw him reach greater heights as he scored 1089 runs to become just the eleventh man to breach the 1000-run barrier in a Ranji season. A student of famed Mumbai school of batting, the young opener showcased his immaculate technique and sound temperament to rake up tall scores with amazing regularity and play a key role in securing another domestic title for Mumbai.
In the following two seasons, he was pushed down to the number three slot but the runs kept flowing. With three centuries in each of the two seasons, Rahane was now slamming the selectors’ doors. As if to prove that he isn’t good only on the flat tracks that Indian domestic cricket is notorious for, he gave further indication of his talent by scoring two more centuries in the Emerging Players tournament in Australia.
The first international call for the Mumbaikar duly followed as a glut of injuries during the disastrous English tour got him on the plane to England. He proved his mettle on the international stage with an attractive 61 off 39 balls in his Twenty20 international debut and by the end of the tour, in which India faced nothing but defeats, Rahane was the only one to return with his reputation enhanced.
His performance in sporadic appearances in ODIs at home was reasonable, with the high point being a career best 91 against England at Mohali, and Rahane was soon drafted into the Test squad for the home series against the West Indies. Though an immediate spot in the playing XI was not imminent given his obvious talent and consistency, the Indian Test cap didn’t look far.
But it proved to be the start of a 16-month-long ordeal during which he became synonymous with the terms ‘bench warmer’ and ‘drinks carrier’.
The Indian team went through another 4-0 humiliation in Australia but the team management stuck to the same set of batsmen who failed over and over again.
Retirements and loss of form of senior members opened up several spots in the lineup but Rahane, still waiting for his chance on the sidelines, saw as many as seven players make their debut and push him into near obscurity. He also saw Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay make successful comebacks and the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina given another bite at the cherry.
The selectors’ confusion regarding his batting position also didn’t help the matters. While the selection panel led by Kris Srikkanth selected him for the Australian tour as a back up opener who can bat in the middle order, the subsequent committee headed by Sandeep Patil regarded him strictly as a middle-order batsman.
Rahane, meanwhile, displayed his mental fortitude and kept stating that he is ready to wait for his opportunities. Even as the ‘bench jokes’ did rounds on the social media, Rahane did what he does best – make runs in the domestic circuit. Tons of them.
For a first class cricketer, becoming a test player is just a step away but the journey became a long and tedious one for the Mumbai lad before he finally got his break on a treacherous track in the recent Delhi test against Australia.
Though there was no prominent technical glitch in his methods, his craft was considered dour and he was touted to not make much impression in the mad rush of Twenty20 by-lanes. But he proved his detractors wrong with his show in the 2012 edition of IPL in which he amassed 560 runs, including an unbeaten hundred.
Instead of relying on the fancied scoops and switch hits or the ugly heaves over the cow corner, he stuck to his strengths and showed that proper cricket shots and the classical approach to batting too has a place in the slam bang version of the game.
Selection aberrations, however, yet again returned to haunt him as despite his proficiency in playing in seaming conditions, Rahane was given the cold shoulder for the Champions Trophy and the tri-series in the Caribbean.
The 25-year-old is at the crossroads in his career but despite the numerous rebuffs, his selection for the ODIs in Zimbabwe and the tour to South Africa with the India A team shows that he is very much in the radar. The onus is now on him to do justice to the potential he has and fulfill the promise he showed as a 19-year-old.