Time for Ajinkya Rahane to rise to the occasion

BROMANCE: Virat Kohli says they can’t jump the gun on someone like Ajinkya Rahane. (Getty Images)BROMANCE: Virat Kohli says they can’t jump the gun on someone like Ajinkya Rahane. (Getty Images)MUMBAI: In all the din about a potential rift in the Indian cricket team between Virat Kohli and his deputy in ODIs, Rohit Sharma, and the numerous clarifications sought and offered, an important element was missed or rather under-reported as fine print when Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri spoke to the media ahead of their departure to the West Indies in Mumbai on Monday.It was Kohli’s strong backing of his Test deputy, Ajinkya Rahane, the man who, with due respects to the skipper, was India’s best batsman overseas from 2014 to 2016, but someone who has been struggling after August 2017, since scoring his last Test hundred against Sri Lanka at the SSC. He’s played 17 Tests and scored 696 runs at an average of 24.85 since. The skipper who has shared some memorable stands with Rahane, most notably at the MCG vs Australia in 2014 and in Indore in 2016 vs New Zealand, though chose to overlook that. Calling Rahane one of the most sorted out players in the team and one of the pillars along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, who was slammed for leaving Rahane out in the first two Tests against South Africa in early 2018 in Cape Town and Centurion and choosing to go with Rohit Sharma, stated, “We chose him (Rohit) over (Ajinkya) Jinx (in the South Africa Test series) because of the way he (Rohit) was playing in the ODI series against Sri Lanka. But Jinx is a solid player as well. He is one of the most sorted guys. He reads the game well too.”The last comment is indeed true and it was reflected in his debut as captain in the series-decider vs Australia at Dharamsala in March 2017 where Kohli had to miss out due to a shoulder injury.While his bat has been silent for a while, Rahane has remained impactful in the field with his safe catching in the slip cordon. With India boasting of a potent pace attack, nicks are produced by the bowlers often and fielders must ensure that they are pouched. Rahane is one player who has great give with his hands. Kohli knows that only too well, having spent a lot of time alongside him in the cordon. “He is a priceless fielder. We’ve all seen the impact he can make with the slip catching and everything. I don’t think we should jump the gun on someone like him. But I think he will come around as he is that good. Jinx will also come in, and he can start stringing in scores.”Kohli realised he had erred in South Africa by dropping him and he promptly brought Rahane back into the playing XI in the third and final Test at Johannesburg and on a spiteful pitch, he scored a battling 48 which helped India put up 247 in the second innings and set a target of 241 and script a famous 63-run win.Rahane’s diminishing returns though would be a cause of worry for Kohli and Shastri. He played all the Test matches in England and Australia last season and was expected to be one of the stars in the line-up. But it did not work out that way. In England, he scored 257 runs in five Tests at a disappointing 25.70. Australia saw only a marginal improvement as he made 217 runs in four Tests at 31.