Again, Ajinkya Rahane missed the bus. The word “again” is thickly accented with an undertone of dejection that borders on desperation. “Again”, spoken in conjunction with Rahane, has a resonance of dismay.
Flashback to India’s disastrous tour Down Under. Everything seemed to fall in place for his debut. The old-guard was withering away; retirements loomed large; fellow contenders weren’t pulling above their weight. Everything looked picture perfect, and his prolific domestic consistency was to be finally upgraded to the pedestal where every cricketer strives to be.
Creditably, he looked equipped to meet the requisites of Test cricket. His instinct is to play straight, and he’s superior at that. He hardly resorts to the banality of cross-batted swishes and sways. When Rahane bats, he transcends the format itself, for one hardly feels the haste one attributes to the shorter ones. Composure is compressed into his 1.68-metre frame, for he hardly ever looks perturbed. Even if, though rarely, he struggles to dissect fielders, he maintains his serenity, waits for the right ball to be punished.
Fifteen months between being the visitor and the host to Australia — wherein India squeezed in eight Tests — Rahane’s wait has only prolonged. There wasn’t any reversal to the script. Yes, two of India’s middle-order stalwarts retired; their most successful opening pair was dismantled. The doors of middle order, once firmly bolted to half-a-dozen domestic Test aspirants in its glorious peak, creaked wide open. Either way, Rahane would have sensed an opportunity — one of the virtues of having opened and batted in the middle order for his domestic side, and with inspiring returns to show in both. The No 6 spot was up for grabs, with both Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh continuously failing. And he seemed all due for that overdue Test debut in Nagpur against England.
Then, rather against the script, he was compromised for the flexibility that Ravindra Jadeja affords to the team in the sub-continental conditions. Fate was it that Jadeja seamlessly fitted into the scheme, and with skipper MS Dhoni climbing a rung, and succeeding in his role, meant his middle-order prospects, too, were bleak. With Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kolhi, too, consolidating on their respective positions, Rahane’s tryst with destiny was to be deferred.
Later, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhiwan were to play his party poopers. Vijay’s return was slightly surprising in that his domestic season was ordinary, as he struggled in the Ranji, though restored some form in the Irani Trophy. Selected as a middle-order batsman in the team, as the selectors stated, Rahane couldn’t complain either. Surely, it affects him. Naturally, it showed in his ODI knocks — string of unconvincing performances against Pakistan and England in the ODIs has jettisoned him from the playing XI. Suddenly, his technique looks less convincing, exacerbated by successive dismissals through the gate against England.
His demeanour in the nets only reinforces the brooding melancholy. Every now and again, while changing his gloves he gives a long, hard look at his palm. Maybe, his palms are sweaty or maybe he is staring blankly at his palm lines. And again, he has missed the bus.