Six years of solid apprenticeship

Rahane's key advisor at Rajasthan Royals, Rahul Dravid, has a point to make.-R.V. MOORTHY

With his maiden Test hundred recently, Rahane has taken the first step to holding his own in the Indian team and the last two overseas tours — to South Africa and New Zealand — have won him many admirers. By G.Viswanath.

Ajinkya Rahane’s first century in white flannels in the second Test against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve, Wellington, riveted attention on his method, demeanour and style. The purists gave him almost full marks. They are the ones — apart from the rival bowling attack — who dissect a newcomer and a seasoned campaigner alike; mainly the stillness of the head, the grip of the bat, movement of the hands and feet and the execution of the defensive and offensive shots before giving their verdict.

His 118 made in a little over four hours in which he faced 158 balls confirmed to the discerning and the people belonging to the Doubting Thomas bandwagon that the Mumbai right-hander has acquired the skill and training to compete at the highest level of Test match cricket. His first three-figure mark — in his fifth Test — had 17 fours, while one shot sailed over the line. Without doubt Rahane has taken the first step to holding his own in the Indian team and the last two overseas tours — to South Africa and New Zealand — have won him many admirers.

Success has taken time to arrive (he made his first-class debut in 2007), but Rahane would readily admit that it was worth the wait. It has been a steady rise for a first-class cricketer, who has taken the rough and the smooth of India’s domestic system in his stride before the selectors gave him the approving nod and thereafter backed him to the hilt.

He made 40 and 54 in his first two internationals; in an away series in which India lacked vitality and resourcefulness. England’s attack in the one-day games at Riverside and Rose Bowl consisted of some versatile practitioners of the Duke ball like Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Jade Dernbach and off-break bowler Graeme Swann. This enabled Rahane to form his own assessment and get in some hard work to fine-tune his game and interact with people including his long time coach and mentor Pravin Amre. After a reasonable outing in England, he exuded confidence and demonstrated fierce determination in carving out a 91 against Alastair Cook’s England in Mohali in the home winter of 2011.

Rahane’s limited overs cricket story makes curious reading; he has been dismissed for single digit scores on 11 occasions in 23 matches. Scores of 8 against South Africa and 7, 36, 3, 3 and 2 in the five-match series against New Zealand would have indeed hurt his confidence levels a bit. But as it happened in South Africa when he raised the bar with scores of 47 in the first innings of the first Test at the Wanderers, Johannesburg, and 51 not out and 96 in the second Test at Kingsmead, Durban, Rahane came up with a sterling effort at Wellington. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the nearest Indian for the most part to see Rahane shape a lovely knock.

Most batsmen would have gone gung-ho after reaching the coveted century, but Rahane was level-headed and subdued in his celebration. Amre was delighted. “I saw the full innings. The straight drive was good, but it was the second shot, a back-foot punch that raced to the cover boundary, that told a lot about what was going to come from his blade. He quickly calmed himself after playing a couple of loose shots. I liked his low-key celebration too. It was a very emotional moment. He knew he has a long way to go and also score more such centuries for India,” said Amre, who as chairman of the BCCI junior selection committee first spotted Rahane in an under-17 match in Mumbai.

Getting into a free-wheeling conversation while watching the BCCI corporate tournament at the Wankhede Stadium, Amre (coach of the Air India team), recalled events that have shaped Rahane into a cool and calm cricketer, who waits for opportunities with a lot of patience. Rahane was dismissed cheaply (7 and 1) in his debut Test against Australia at the Kotla, New Delhi, falling to off-spinners Nathan Lyon and Glen Maxwell. “It can be really frustrating, being on the sidelines for 16 Tests. I cited my own example of waiting for 10 Test matches. I also also cited the Michael Hussey example to motivate him. I saw his dismissals and said to myself that it’s not the Ajinkya I know. He needed some guidance. I am a firm believer like my coach Achrekar sir that one shouldn’t tinker with a batsman’s technique. Rahane possesses a fine technique and his basics are strong,’’ said Amre.

Rahane has picked the brains of Rahul Dravid (Rajasthan Royals) and Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai) to understand the game better and evolved. But he also looked up to Amre as a knowledgeable coach and mentor. “We worked on his batting before the South Africa and New Zealand tours. I cannot tell what we discussed and what we did, but we spent 14 days at two-hour net sessions each day before the South Africa series and 10 days before the New Zealand series. I have worked with him as a Mumbai and India ‘A’ coach. And Rahane has delivered. He has worked hard for six years in domestic tournaments and hence has seen success come his way.’’

Amre does not want to delve too much into Rahane’s position in the batting order. “That can come later, what’s important is that he is good for all formats. This shows that if you have sound basics and good technique, you will succeed in all formats. He would probably look ugly attempting power shots,” said Amre.

Given the big break (his first-class debut) in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy match played between India’s Ranji Trophy champion, Mumbai and Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam Trophy winner, Karachi Urban, at the National Stadium, Karachi, Rahane impressed with a 143 in a tall-scoring match in which Sahil Kukreja made 110, Prashant Naik 118 and Abhishek Nayar 152.

Rahane justified his selection in the 2007-08 season scoring 1017 runs. He made 172 against England Lions in Baroda in the same season and followed up in the next two seasons, scoring 1390 and 887 runs. The selectors could no more overlook his claims and as Amre says: “That’s why the Test cap is something very special. It’s worth the wait for Rahane. He returned from South Africa with a 69-plus average. I knew he would do well in New Zealand.”

So far, Rahane has scored 6196 runs in 69 first-class matches with 21 centuries and 26 half-centuries for an excellent average of 58.54.

RAHANE STATS

♦ Rahane, 118 in Wellington — 12th Indian batsman to score a Test century in New Zealand. Others: Mohammad Azharuddin (2), Rahul Dravid (2), Gautam Gambhir (2), Sachin Tendulkar (2), Surinder Amarnath, Shikhar Dhawan, Sourav Ganguly, Ajit Wadekar, V. V. S. Laxman, Sunil Gavaskar and Virat Kohli (1 each).

♦ Rahane, 27th Indian batsman overall against New Zealand (in India and in New Zealand).

♦ Rahane’s century was the 50th by an Indian batsman against New Zealand.

♦ Rahane is the 76th Indian cricketer to score a Test century; overall it was the 435th hundred for India in Test cricket.