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The curious case of Ajinkya Rahane in Tests

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Ajinkya Rahane has played 65 Test matches in his career, 38 of those overseas while 27 at home. However, he has a unique distinction - his average away from home is better than his average in India, a rarity for Indian batters. Rahane's overseas average stands at 45.16, nearly six more than his home average of 39.28.

The Mumbaikar also has more centuries away from home. Now, with India having tons of options in the Test middle-order, the need to fit in Rahane in home Tests is only justifiable because of his better record overseas and the current form he often carries after away tours. However, that hasn't quite translated into runs so far.

This has been the case right through Rahane's career. At one point, he was considered a better Test batsman than Virat Kohli and the most stable Indian batsman in the line-up overseas. He managed to stay afloat in home Tests too and the general impression as a crisis man and an able replacement for someone like VVS Laxman stood.

This is before India's extended line of home series in 2016-17. In the period before 2017, Rahane averaged a stunning 51.22 away from home and 40.23 at home. The middle-order batsman was at the peak of his prowess and runs came swiftly off his bat. India's home season wrecked Rahane's purple patch and sunk his career into an abyss.

The start of the fall for Rahane

The dip started in late 2016 when India played back-to-back home series against New Zealand and England. He shone in the New Zealand series, blasting a brilliant 188 in 381 balls at Indore. However, by the England series, Rahane had become inconsistent. He made scores of 13, 1, 23, 26 and 0 in that series.

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When Bangladesh came in early 2017, Rahane started with a promising 82. But he went through the series against Australia and later Sri Lanka (home) with just one fifty-plus score. By 2018, India were back playing overseas and the expectation was that he would thrive. However, he was dropped for the first two Tests in South Africa on the basis of his home form and although he returned well in the third Test, his record in that overseas Test cycle remained poor.

He averaged 28.5, 25.7, 31 and 22.75 in his last tours of South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand. The once promising away record has withered away as he, like most Indian batsmen, seemed to struggle with seam movement and swing. However, his record on slower tracks at home and in the Caribbean improved. He averaged 72 in the series against Proteas at home in 2019 and 60-plus against Bangladesh at home and 90.33 in the West Indies.

A standout performer in overseas Tests once, Rahane has now turned into another player who thrives at home but struggles abroad. That he has never once found consistency across both conditions is indeed a cause for concern. However, given that he has shone in both conditions at different times, it makes sense to stick by his rough patch. A unique Test career indeed!

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Marty Melville

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