Border-Gavaskar Trophy Cricket

Ajinkya Rahane turns focus on first-class cricket utility

By Nandakumar Marar

MUMBAI: Ajinkya Rahane faced a lot of questions en route to showing
Team India the way to a series-levelling 1-1 victory against Australia
at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Answers to those queries proved the
priorities in his line of thinking… teamwork, character and utility of
first-class cricket back home. The last point is extremely relevant
for young cricketers dreaming of representing India one day, maybe
leading the side later in their careers, like the stand-in skipper
handling responsibility with the assurance of a hard-nosed pro.

The Indian captain’s style, understated yet effective, revolves around
giving his teammates the space to play their part in the cricket show.
He revels in their success in trying to fulfil individual roles and is
prompt in giving them credit. “I am really proud of all the players. I
want to give credit to the debutants (Mohammed) Siraj and (Shubman)
Gill. The character they (teammates) showed after the Adelaide loss
was great to see.” Rookies in Test cricket displayed self-confidence
due to natural talent and a trust in their leader who seemed in
control of situations.

Rahane added: “Shubman, we all know his first-class career. In this
game, he has shown the intent to play shots at this level, has shown
composure,” the India captain is quoted by PTI. “Siraj has shown that
he can bowl with discipline. It is really difficult for debutants to
bowl with discipline, that is where I think the first-class cricket
experience comes in handy.”  The bowling discipline pointed out by the
captain referred to Siraj’s ability to stick to plans and not get
carried away by the pace and movement off the wicket in Australian

Indian bowlers are familiar with bending their backs to get life on
heart-breaking wickets at home, survival depends on guile and
variations on batsmen-friendly surfaces. The sight of lively tracks
could have got the Test debutant excited at the prospect of blowing
away batsmen using pace. He focussed on accuracy, bowled to the field
and got rewarded.

In contrast to the razzmatazz of T20 cricket with guaranteed thrills
and glamour, first-class cricket which Rahane is referring to are
four-day games in whites with a red ball, played far away from the
spotlights in mostly empty huge stadiums in major cricket centres and
noisy venues at smaller centres. The wickets vary in nature, the
outfields don’t enthuse spectacular fielding. Adapting to Aussie
wickets, technically and mentally, against a quality attack, is
daunting for any first-timer. Shubham displayed daring and stuck to
his natural attacking game. The debutant made a bold statement at the
MCG, dealing with the attack on merit and not getting overawed.

Siraj plays for Hyderabad. Shubman represents Punjab in domestic
cricket (as first-class cricket is called). The pacer played 39 games
for his state before coming to the attention of Indian selectors. The
opener with stylish shots played 24 first-class matches for his state
side before inclusion as one of the opener options on a tough tour.
Rahane, aware of the value of domestic cricket experience in moulding
talent, explained the reasons for younger teammates adapting to
international cricket at the first opportunity.

As a specialist batsman for Mumbai, the India captain is very familiar
with handling domestic cricket’s challenges. The move to turn a little
of the spotlight on himself and other successful teammates at the MCG,
onto first-class cricket in India is a timely reference point for more
attention to domestic cricket, from everyone concerned in managing and
popularising the sport.

Australian cricket voices, curious about a low-profile captain’s
competence, are now talking a different language post-MCG about the
calm yet combative leader of Team India. Appreciation for Ajinkya
Rahane the batsman expressed via vegetable art (ladyfingers, jackfruit
seed, long beans, cauliflower stalk). The front-foot punch is a
signature shot, using pace generated by the bowler against him, using
pure timing and technique. He enjoys the cut and the pull, taking the
battle to the opponents.

Ajinkya Rahane batting photo courtesy Getty Images

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