BY NIHARIKA RAINA
New Delhi– When India announced their squad for the World Test Championship final, where they will face Australia from June 7-11 in London, the return of veteran batter Ajinkya Rahane was on expected lines.
Rahane, who made his Test debut against Australia at New Delhi in 2013, had carved a reputation for himself as being one of India’s dependable batters in overseas conditions, as seen from eight of his 12 Test centuries coming outside of home.
However, a dip in form despite making a fantastic century against Australia in the 2020 Boxing Day Test and leading India to an unforgettable 2-1 Border-Gavaskar Trophy triumph, meant Rahane was last seen in the format in January 2022 against South Africa at Cape Town, where he had scores of 9 and 1.
After accumulating 136 runs in six innings as India lost the series 2-1 against Proteas, Rahane was left out of the Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka.
Injuries to Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant leading to a hole in the Indian middle-order along with his sizzling form in IPL 2023, played a hand in Rahane’s return to the Test squad after 14 months.
Australia skipper Aaron Finch believes that players like Rahane have plenty of experience for big matches like the WTC final and holds huge importance too.
“In big games, you want the option of players having plenty of experience. With Shreyas injured, and Rishabh also injured, which is very unfortunate, Rahane must be in the squad,” Finch told IANS in an interview organised by Star Sports, where he is an expert commentator for IPL 2023.
While Cheteshwar Pujara took the county championship route of making runs and regaining his rhythm to get back into the Test side since the rescheduled fifth Test against England at Edgbaston in July 2022, Rahane had to recover from a hamstring injury sustained during IPL 2022 and then go back to the grind of domestic cricket.
Starting with the Duleep Trophy in September 2022, Rahane made 250 runs in five innings, including an unbeaten 207 for West Zone. In the Ranji Trophy, Rahane was Mumbai’s leading run-scorer with 634 runs from seven matches, including a double-century against Hyderabad, and 191 against Assam.
A shift to Chennai Super Kings and Rahane plundering big match-winning scores, with his exquisite timing and crispness in shots through a free-flowing manner coming to the fore yet again, it augurs well for Rahane to make his second chance count in coming back to the Test side and performing well in a country where his Test average is currently at 26.03.
“We all had seen how important he was in the Australia Test series (in 2020/21), when he took over the captaincy after Virat had come home. The calmness he brings, the experience and class he has, the overall demeanour with him in the squad becomes pretty important,” added Finch.
From an Australian perspective, all major players are available, with fast-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh earning a recall too. His last Test was against England in the 2019 Ashes, ironically at The Oval, where he claimed a five-wicket haul.
Finch called Marsh’s selection for the WTC final squad as a good one and thinks he’s more of a like-to-like cover for Cameron Green.
“With Cameron Green playing in the IPL and there being an eight-day break between the IPL and the World Test Championship final, Mitch is probably in the squad as a cover. Then, when the Ashes come around, then there will be a decision to make,” he said.
Finch signed off by expecting Australia to stick to the playing eleven which they have fielded on many occasions in the last two years.
“I am very sure Australia are going with a playing eleven which has played the majority of games throughout the last two years in the WTC cycle. I don’t think that sort of 11 or 12 will change unless there is an injury or are looking for a different combination in that middle-order,” he said. (IANS)