KOLKATA: India played out a thrilling draw with Sri Lanka in the first Test at the Eden Gardens. While the Indian pacers grabbed most of the spotlight, Cheteshwar Pujara’s gritty knock in the first innings and Virat Kohli’s 50th international century in the second essay were just as crucial.
However, what will worry the hosts is the form of Ajinkya Rahane, and how that could affect India’s middle-order. He totalled 4 runs from this match. Kohli’s deputy was at sea against the swinging ball in the first innings, as Suranga Lakmal extracted every ounce of juice on a green pitch. After a fidgety 21-ball vigil, Rahane was undone by a gentle seam-up delivery from Dasun Shanaka.
There was no upturn in fortune for the 29-year-old in the second innings. The right-hander was caught in his crease as a beautiful inswinger from Lakmal had him plumb in front of the wicket. A DRS review wasn’t enough to save him the blushes as Rahane was dismissed for a duck. This was his third in his last six First Class innings.
This year, Rahane has not reached the heights expected of him. In his last six home Test matches, he averages 31.2, and has only two half-centuries. His only century this year came in Colombo. With sterner tests in South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand to come over the next 18 months, India need Rahane to rediscover his form.
The right-hander’s Test numbers reveal two facts: he has centuries in each multiple-match series, except for the last Australia series (one-off Tests excluded), and that those hundreds are usually followed by low scores.
In 41 Tests, Rahane has nine centuries and 12 half-centuries at an average of 46.11. He also has five ducks and 13 single-digit scores. His consistency has always been an issue since his debut in 2013.
However, his overseas form has been a redeeming factor. In his first full series in South Africa in 2013, his 209 runs came at an average of 69.66. He went on to score a ton against the Kiwis in their den. The following English tour was a chastening experience for India, but Rahane emerged with his pride intact as he accumulated 299 runs in five Tests at 33.2, with a brilliant ton at Lord’s. Against Australia, Rahane performed admirably with 399 runs, scoring a match-saving hundred at the MCG.
“I’m not concerned about my form. I know if I bat long enough, I will score. It is just about getting a start. I feel good about my batting and the future,” Rahane had said. India depend a lot on their top-4. Like in the first essay, if the openers fail, one among Kohli, Pujara or Rahane is expected to deliver. The batsmen following Pujara in the middle-order are Wriddhiman Saha and the two Ravis (Ashwin and Jadeja).
Even though Saha is capable, one cannot expect fireworks from the two spinners all the time. Hardik Pandya is a crucial component but with his Test career at a nascent stage, he cannot be faulted if he fails to deliver with the bat in overseas conditions. The last time India had such a long overseas journey, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane bailed India out. With the former two in good nick, it is vital that Rahane steps up to the plate as well.
48.59: Rahane’s Test average between Dec 2013 and Jan 2015, when India endured difficult tours of South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. He was arguably the most consistent batsman in the period, and only Virat Kohli (52.48) had averaged more than him.
12.60: Rahane’s average in the five-match England series late last year. He made just 63 in three Tests before being injured. It was perhaps his most forgettable outing in recent times.