Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma came into the Test series against Sri Lanka on back of contrasting runs in the longest format.
The former is one of India’s premier batsmen in the longest format and the vice-captain, while the latter has not been a regular. The 29-year-old went into the series on back of successful outing against the same opposition in their backyard in September this year. There he averaged 76.33. Rohit, 30, by contrast had not played Test cricket since September 2016.
The ongoing series against Sri Lanka, though, it feels as if the roles have reversed. Rahane has looked completely out of his depth, registering scores of 4, 0, 2, 1, 10 after coming into bat at No 5 in four of his five innings in the series.
On Tuesday, India’s team management sent Rahane at No 3. It appeared to be a move that was made for two reasons. Firstly, to help India set Sri Lanka a target with some quick runs, and secondly it was a bid to hand the struggling batsman more time to get some runs on the board.
Rohit, who was brought in for the second and third Test, glided into his role seamlessly. Batting at No 6 in this series, Rohit notched up 217 runs in three innings with one century and two fifties.
Despite the limited opportunities in the longer format, Rohit has always remained relevant for the Test side through the sheer scale of his numbers in limited overs cricket.
Rahane has adopted a different path to the Test team.
The international careers of the two Mumbai batsmen have differed in many ways.
So far, Rahane has been a darling of the team when it comes to the longer format. One of India’s most consistent performers overseas, the Mumbai batsman is considered one of the more level-headed cricketers in the Test team. In the limited overs format, though, Rahane struggles to find a place in the playing XI.
Rohit is the opposite in this aspect. He is one of India’s leading lights in the limited-overs format and is Kohli’s deputy in ODIs and T20Is. He, however, has struggled to make himself a sure pick for a place in the Test side.
As the onging home series against Sri Lanka nears its close, the contrast is still evident, albeit the situation seems to have been reversed.
South Africa bound
On the seaming track at Eden Gardens, India went with five batsmen and five bowlers other than keeper Wriddhiman Saha. A similar line-up is expected for South Africa. The combination, though, will only be clear only once the exact nature of the wickets in South African wickets is revealed. Both Rohit and Rahane are part of India’s squad. For now, the former is set to be the batsman who makes way for an extra bowler. However, considering Rahane’s poor run, it might not be far-fetched to see him sit out.
With no real preparation time and the series just three-Test long, Kohli & Co will be expected to hit the ground running. An international tour is hardly the place for a batsman to find form.
Rahane remains the only weak link in India’s batting line-up which up until now had looked as robust as ever.
In a last ditch effort, the team management sent him up the order. To his misfortune, Rahane fell cheaply looking to find form by hitting out. His slump is more glaring considering the docile nature of the wickets in the second and third Test.
With multiple contenders for each spot, to label India’s national set up competitive, would be an understatement. A lapse in concentration is likely to fell the most reliable of individuals. For Rahane and India, this slump has come at the most inopportune time. They, though, will take solace in the fact that Rohit has stepped up to be counted as a viable alternative.
Between now and the tour to South Africa, Rahane will turn up for India in the ODI series against Sri Lanka that follows immediately after the conclusion of the ongoing Test in Delhi. Rohit will lead the team, as Kohli takes a much-needed break.
Rahane also has an option of playing four-day cricket for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. However, with Kohli absent, it is unclear if the team management will recuse him from national duty.
As such, it looks like a limited overs series where Rahane will look to make a final effort to get some runs on the board and gain confidence ahead of the South African sojourn. It worked for Rohit, it might just also work for his state mate.