The first test between India and New Zealand ended in a hard-fought draw. The Kiwi tail-enders displayed enormous skill and grit to stonewall an eminent win. The match was in the balance right till the final was over and all three results could have been possible when the two teams went into the final session. The one brightest positive for India in this test match has been Shreyas Iyer’s performance. He came in late as a replacement once KL Rahul got injured. Played at no. 5 and scored a scintillating ton in the first innings. He consolidated his performance with a second innings of 50 as well.
However, with such performances by the bench strength and fringe players, pressure continues to mount on senior Indian middle-order batsmen namely Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. In particular, Rahane has been under severe criticism for his indifferent form and underperformance. The calls for his axing have grown louder with each passing test. With Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and KL Rahul returning to the side, it seems that Rahane’s time is all but over. We look at 5 reasons why the Kanpur test could be Ajinkya Rahane’s final outing in whites.
1. Final leg of his career
The team management is perceptive about a player’s bad form and performance slump. However, a longer rope is provided to youngsters who have just come into the team. Rahane is today 33 years old. He has been a regular part of the team since 2013 and has thus been in the team for 8 years now. By this standard, he is one of the most experienced and senior players. He has toured SENA countries multiple times. However, his returns in the past few years have not conjured much confidence. His scores in India and abroad have been poor. Thus, the selectors will find it unfeasible to stick with him for long. This was what Murali Vijay faced too. Due to age not being on his side, he was replaced with youngsters like Shaw and Gill. The idea is to nurture new talent for the future.
2. String of poor performances
Before the Kanpur Test, Rahane’s previous 20 innings score card read 0, 14, 10, 18, 61, 1, 5, 15, 49, 27, 7, 10, 67, 0, 1, 24, 37, 4, 22 and 27*. Being a senior player, he was expected to bolster the middle order. However, as was seen in the Kanpur test as well, he failed to anchor the middle order. He has not got starts or converted when he has got starts. Lack of big scores has been a concern too. With such low returns, his place in the team becomes untenable.
3. Strong bench strength
Over the past few years, the Indian middle order has looked brittle. Kohli has performed consistently but not at the levels of 2016 and 2017 when he carried the entire team alone. With Rahane and Pujara contributing abysmally, it has affected the team performance. A look at India’s bench suggests that there is no dearth of talent. Rahul has come back into the team with blazing form. Assuming Rahul takes back his position as an opener, Shubman Gill can be slotted into the middle order where he is more comfortable. Then, Shreyas Iyer has forwarded a compelling case for himself with his debut performance and it will be hard to drop him. Therefore, every position in the middle order has a lot of takers and intense competition.
4. Complete lack of confidence
It is not that players do not go through a lean patch. The best players in the world have gone through a bad phase. The best performers in the current Indian team against England, namely Sharma and Rahul, were dropped due to bad form. However, with Rahane, it seems that his batting confidence has taken a strong hit. There is constant scrutiny and criticism off his technique and form in the media. This has affected his batting and he is circumspect of his technique and foot movement. He would need to go back to domestic cricket, perform and get back his confidence to come back into the team. With age being against him, this looks difficult.
5. High stakes upcoming tour
India will be traveling to South Africa in less than 10 days. As it is well known, the pace, bounce, and swing in those pitches is a nightmare for visiting Indian teams. India has found it difficult to win a series in South Africa. With the fearsome pace attack of the South Africans which includes Rabada, Nortje, and now returning Duanne Oliver, India will need their best batters. With Rahane’s poor form and confidence being low, it would not be surprising if the selectors decide to travel without him.