NEW DELHI: Ajinkya Rahane is currently the face of Team India’s character and the toast of the nation. The events of the last five days are going to be the highlight of his career. Yet, not many know that the leader of one of the greatest comebacks in the game has been battling bouts of self-doubts and uncertainty for nearly three years now.
Being dropped from two Tests in South Africa in 2018 despite being the designated vice-captain was probably the lowest point in Rahane’s career. “That was a time when it looked like he might have taken a hit mentally. Leading up to that South Africa tour, he had done well overseas.
“Maybe the home series before that didn’t go as well he had desired, but you got to be patient with a player such as Rahane,” former national selector Devang Gandhi told TOI. “You always have to look at the bigger picture. Immediately after that, he played a crucial knock of 48 in Johannesburg where we won the Test. That showed his character and the ability to fight.”
It was a turbulent time for Rahane. His spot in the Test XI seemed to be in jeopardy and his future in limited-overs cricket too didn’t look promising. “He was a little disturbed because of his non-inclusion in ODIs. Before that tour, he had scored five 50s in ODIs as opener. But he had to make way once Rohit and Shikhar got fit. He was part of the squad and then there was the emergence of KL Rahul. It became difficult to pick him,” Gandhi said.
It may be recalled that captain Virat Kohli too had made a statement on Rahane’s utility in the middle-order for the World Cup in England that happened a year later. Rahane never played an ODI after the South Africa tour. “He was not picked for the World Cup. That must have taken a toll on him,” said Gandhi.
Gandhi says Rahane may be an affable young man but he is firm in his beliefs. Rahane had approached the selectors and sought clarity about his future both in Test cricket and ODIs. “All the selectors had conversations with him. I remember Jatin Paranjpe and I having a conversation with him in Bangalore in 2018. He was harping on the way forward for him and asked for clarity. We assured him he was very much there. As far as Test cricket is concerned, his vice-captaincy was never in doubt,” Gandhi added.
Sticking with Rahane as the vice-captain even after he was dropped for two Tests was a big call. “Whatever opportunity he had got as a captain, like in the Dharamshala Test match against Australia or even when Virat would be off the field for some time, he impressed in the way he led.
“The way he gathered everyone here is there to see. We saw Ashwin, Jadeja and other seniors getting together before he made a call.”
Rahane’s form has been indifferent for three years. As he was battling to assert his position in the team, things could not have been easy for him with the perception around him. “He was never willing to give up. He went to county cricket. He wanted to prove a point. He showed eagerness to feature in the shadow ‘A’ tours before the big tours. His resolve and mental strength have brought him to this day where he has scripted this comeback for India at the MCG,” Gandhi said.
Like in Test cricket, Rahane has played out the toughest session of his career and it’s time to make the most of his form.