This article is from Wisden India.
By R Kaushik
Ajinkya Rahane is an unlikely hero. Unlike many of his team-mates, flash is the last thing on his mind. He is not one of the in-your-face types; he is more understated and studied. See Ajinkya Rahane, and immediately you see serious. You see committed. You see determined. It's not that you don't see these traits in his more extravagant team-mates; it's just that with Rahane, the bling is secondary. Or tertiary. If at all.
Why would you want to settle for a nickname that goes as 'Jinks'? Alright, so Halle Berry had a similar sounding name in Die Another Day - Jinx, same pronunciation, different spelling - but that's 007 territory. Rahane, Jinks, 007, licensed to kill. Incongruous? You bet.
And, yet, Rahane occasionally does get the license to kill. The bowling. And like he showed at the MCG on Sunday (February 22) evening, it's a license he relishes. Enjoys, even.
By and large, Rahane shuns the violence that successful one-day batsmanship has come to be synonymous with. In that regard, he is more Dravid than Sehwag. He is a bloody good limited-overs batsman - he does have a century in the Indian Premier League - but you will never associate Rahane with a mow and a hoick.
At the MCG, neither the mow nor the hoick was in evidence, yet Rahane tiptoed his way to 79 off 60 deliveries. With seven fours and three sixes. Not one of them hit in anger. Not one ball disdainfully smashed. Against his grain, you see, this violence.
"Rahane surprised his mates, maybe even himself, as he bled South Africa dry with an innings of such correctness and authority that you almost forgot that it was a game of coloured clothes and white balls."
India had danced their way to 136 at the start of the 28th over when Virat Kohli was dismissed. With just a little over two-fifths of the innings remaining and two wickets down, the stage was set for Suresh Raina - 74 off 56 in the previous game against Pakistan - to step up and provide the momentum. Instead, Mahendra Singh Dhoni sent out Rahane. Little Rahane. Non-violent Rahane. Perhaps to keep the left-right combination going, what with Shikhar Dhawan having topped 50 and looking good for more, perhaps because Rahane was better off batting with so many overs left than going in in the slog where his orthodoxy is hardly value for money.
If Rahane's presence at No. 4 was a bit of a surprise under the circumstances, then greater surprises were in store for the near 87,000-strong gathering at the MCG. It is possible that Rahane surprised his mates, maybe even himself, as he bled South Africa dry with an innings of such correctness and authority that you almost forgot that it was a game of coloured clothes and white balls.
His elevation to No. 4 with 23 overs left, Dhoni revealed, wasn't an accident. "We had a chat with him, we said 'bat to your strength, use your timing because that's really your strength'," said the captain. "If you look to give too much power you lose shape and you're not able to score freely. You need to use your timing. He backed his natural instinct, his timing, to get the runs. There has been improvement (in his batting); irrespective of the format, he has really improved. He's one of those individuals who's not rigid. He's quite open to ideas; he's quite open to try new things. Once he tries it out, he gives you a good response as to whether it's working or not working for him."
At practice at the Junction Oval in the lead-up to this game, the big boys were unfurling the big strokes - Raina, Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Stuart Binny, Umesh Yadav. Rahane was unfussed; he didn't appear particularly concerned about getting his big-hitting game in order, but then again, that's because he really isn't a big hitter in the conventional sense. And despite scoring at more than 131 runs per hundred balls faced, you never felt Rahane had ever dismissed the ball from his presence. Instead, he merely coaxed and caressed and convinced it to speed to the boundary or sail over it, the ball almost entranced into doing his bidding. In this era of paddles and reverse paddles and ugly but breathtaking switch hits, Rahane was anachronistic, yet easy on the eye, his strokeplay bringing a smile to the heart and a song to the lips.
Rahane was busy as ever, but once he warmed up by pulling Wayne Parnell in front of midwicket for the first of his boundaries, he effortlessly upped the tempo. He made room for himself and guided the ball over cover; he shimmied down the track and drove effortlessly over the infield and at times over the outfield too. He ran hard when the boundaries weren't on offer, little legs carrying him from Point A to Point B with incredible speed. What this meant was that Dhawan, closing in on his century, could take his time. Rahane this Sunday did what Raina had done the previous Sunday in Adelaide. But where Raina was all bluster and bravado, Rahane was all silken smooth. More than one way to skin a cat, then.
His first Test ended in personal disaster - caught at backward short-leg in the first innings, caught in the deep playing an ugly chip drive in the second at the Kotla against Australia. He was promptly benched for the next two games. Then, as India went to South Africa in the post-Tendulkar era, he immediately slotted into the XI. Now he has Test tons in New Zealand (Wellington), England (Lord's) and Australia (Melbourne). He can bat, this lad. He can also switch gears in overs cricket, without feeling the need to embrace the strong-arm tactics of some of his more celebrated colleagues.
"Rahane is the quintessential team man - he will bat where he is asked to, without murmur, and he will happily occupy any part of the field his captain asks him to."
His USP is his calmness, under pressure and without it. He rarely loses poise, he never screams and raves and rants. His is almost an invisible presence in the field, until he throws himself to his left or right at point or cover or anywhere and, miraculously, springs to his feet with the ball in his right hand, ready to throw at either end. Showboating isn't Rahane's thing; he is all purposeful and businesslike, happily resigned to ceding centrestage to the Dhawans, the Kohlis, the Rohits and the Dhonis.
Rahane is the quintessential team man - he will bat where he is asked to, without murmur, and he will happily occupy any part of the field his captain asks him to. To him, it is not about where, it is about what. It is not about how, but how much. The sum of the parts, you see.
"He's also one of the fittest guys," Dhoni said, a big compliment from a naturally fit athlete. "You see him on the field, he's very quick. His intensity actually never drops right from the first over until the 90th over in a Test match, which I feel is what fitness is all about. It's all about how many beep tests you can do. He's not someone who owns a position in the sense he's not somebody who wants to field in the covers alone. Wherever there is an opportunity, he's willing to go there, whether it's boundaries, covers, leg-slip, anywhere."
He has gone at many places in the batting order too, and his success on Sunday should instill a new dose of confidence in him. Beyond the top three, India are a side that adopt a flexible, floating approach depending on the conditions and the game situation. Rahane's flowing half-century of the other day has given Dhoni another attacking option in the middle order. Rahane will never be another Raina or Dhoni, but India will gladly take Rahane for what he is.