Team India created history during their previous visit Down Under, registering their first-ever Test series win in Australia, by a 2-1 margin. While India walked away with plenty of plaudits for the same, the fact remains that their triumph came against a weakened side minus the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner, who were serving their ball-tampering bans. Both of them will be available for the upcoming Test series, and with the prolific Marnus Labuschagne also in the mix, Australia will be raring to have a go at India this time.
With Indian skipper Virat Kohli set to return to India following the first Test at Adelaide for the birth of his first child, Australia will have a significant advantage over the visitors this time. Not only does Kohli love taking on the Australian bowling, but his presence itself also gives a psychological edge to India considering how dominating he can be. In Kohli’s absence, India will need their other senior batsmen to stand up. While last series’ hero Cheteshwar Pujara will be expected to play the anchor role again, vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane will need to take over Kohli’s job, as captain and batsman.
Rahane has the experience, having toured Australia in 2014-15, and again in 2018-19. However, although Rahane has played 65 Tests for India, he has not quite achieved the consistency of a Kohli or a Pujara. Rahane averages in the low 40s with only 11 hundreds to his name in a career spanning seven years. Even considering the fact that Rahane has batted in the middle-order all his career, his conversion rate is disappointing.
India’s vice-captain is blessed with all the three crucial Ts needed to succeed — talent, technique and temperament. However, after an impressive first phase where he was India’s best overseas batsman, Rahane’s prolific form was replaced by an elongated dry run. With Kohli unavailable, it is the perfect time for Rahane lift his game to glorious levels all over again.
How Rahane performed in Australia in 2018-19
Rahane had an average run during India’s historic Test series win in Australia last time. He played in all four Tests and managed to post 217 runs at a middling average of 31. Rahane did cross the fifty mark twice but did not have a hundred to show. He contributed 13 and 17 in the first Test at Adelaide, 51 and 30 at Perth, 34 and 1 at Melbourne and 18 at Sydney. The numbers clearly demonstrate that while Rahane got a number of good starts, he failed to convert most of them. It was a series of missed opportunities for the Indian vice-captain.
The Australia tour though was just a continuation of an extended lean run for the 32-year-old. While the Test series Down Under began in December 2018, Rahane’s last Test hundred had come against Sri Lanka at Colombo in August 2017, when he scored 132. Between the Colombo Test and the start of the Australia series, Rahane endured a potential career-ending run. He played 13 Tests during this phase, and managed only 479 runs at an average of 22.80, with a highest of 81 against England at Nottingham.
Rahane’s return to form
With opportunities running out, Rahane made a timely return to form, registering a much-awaited Test hundred against West Indies at North Sound in August 2019. This was the Mumbai batsman’s first Test century in two years. Rahane carried on his good run with 115 against South Africa at Ranchi, and 86 against Bangladesh at Indore. He again struggled in New Zealand at the start of this year though with scores of 46,29,7 and 9. Still, he enjoyed a fruitful phase with 715 runs in nine matches at an average of nearly 60 with two hundreds.
Minus Kohli, It will be imperative for Rahane to put behind a disappointing IPL 2020 campaign, and carry on his good run in the longer version.