Ajinkya Rahane comes out on top at No. 3

Ajinkya Rahane’s marvellous century on Sunday may have solved India’s No. 3 riddle in Tests. Interestingly, the Mumbaikar’s 126 has come in the farewell game of Kumar Sangakkara, one of the most prolific No. 3 batsmen in Test history.

Ajinkya Rahane

The experiment of promoting Rohit Sharma to this crucial position did not work after he failed in two Tests despite a promising show in Sydney early this year. Scores of 6 against Bangladesh in Fatullah, and 9 & 4 in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle did not do Sharma and the Indian team any good. It only exposed the middle order a tad early, especially with captain Virat Kohli going in with five bowlers.

Scoring a majority of his runs at No.5 — Rahane has batted in this position in 22 out of 32 innings — a first-innings failure in the ongoing Test cast doubts over his capability to bat at No. 3. It even promoted experts to wonder if Cheteshwar Pujara ought to have been recalled.

But the 27-year-old right-hander did not disappoint the second time, only proving that he was ready to do anything for the team’s sake. His century could not have come at a better time, especially after opener Murali Vijay fell after making a resolute 82. Rahane’s patient knock has given India a sound platform from where they can enforce a series-levelling victory as the hosts now need another 341 with eight wickets in hand on Day Five.

Batting at No. 3 is nothing new to Rahane. He has done it on numerous occasions for Mumbai and other first-class teams, including Rest of India and India ‘A’. And he has done so with aplomb. He is familiar to the demands of this position and has scored runs in abundance. Other than the odd occasions when he has opened for Mumbai, Rahane has been Mumbai’s No. 3 behind openers Sahil Kukreja, Wasim Jaffer and Sushant Marathe to name a few. Sharma, of course has batted at No. 4 for the domestic giants.

Rahane has never shirked responsibility. “Will bat wherever the team needs me,” is something you will often hear him say. On Sunday, he said, “(I will bat) anywhere the team wants (me to), though I really enjoyed batting at No. 3 today”.

Rahane’s fourth Test century pleased his batting coach and former India batsman Pravin Amre. Watching his ward score a chanceless century that was punctuated with 60 singles and 10 boundaries, Amre told dna, “He has always batted at No. 3 for Mumbai and knows how to bat in that position. Prior to the start of this tour, he worked hard for his role at No. 5 (or No. 6). After all, that’s been his regular position in Tests. However, he proved today that he can bat at any position according to the team’s requirement.”

According to Amre, it is not easy for a batsman to make that adjustment from No. 5 to No. 3, especially in Test cricket. “You must bat and think like an opener in Tests if you are batting at No. 3. He went into this tour thinking of batting at No. 5 or 6. You should have the mindset of an opener. Yes, he failed in the first innings but the way he bounced back (in the second innings) was incredible. That’s very important. He is one player in the Indian team who can bat at any position. It is important to bat where the team wants you to bat, not where you like to bat,” Amre said.

The 47-year-old said that he would like to see Rahane bat at No. 3 on a regular basis. He added that Rahane was mentally prepared to score big in the second knock after a disappointing first innings at the P Sara Oval in Colombo. “Having begun the tour with a century in the tour game (against Sri Lanka Board President’s XI), it was disappointing to see him get out for zero in the first innings of the first Test in Galle. In the second innings, he should have remained unbeaten on a half-century. But the world record of eight catches in Galle showed the amount of concentration he has. That performance gave him confidence to play well in the second Test. For Ajinkya, this innings is very important in his career. There is a lot of competition in the side. Once Shikhar Dhawan comes back, he is certain to open. M Vijay has been amongst the runs. KL Rahul scored a century in the first innings as an opener,” Amre said.

There will be more headaches for captain Kohli and the team management. Having said that, it’s good to have what they called ‘problem of plenty’. Dhawan scored a century with a broken hand in the first Test; Rahul, who had failed in the first Test, made amends by scoring his second ton in only his fourth Test appearance. Vijay, who missed the first Test, scored 82 on Sunday. These players, and Kohli at No. 4, only will give Sharma some worries. But Sharma, pushed back to the last specialist batsman’s position before wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, scored 79 in the first innings and 34 in the second.
So, there are plenty of options. But for the moment, Rahane seems to have solved the No. 3 issue for Kohli.


Here’s how Ajinkya Rahane has fared at different positions in Test cricket

Position Innings Runs HS Avg 100s/50s
No. 3 2 130 126 65.00 1/0
No. 5 22 804 147 40.20 2/5
No. 6 7 289 96 48.17 0/2
No. 7 1 118 118 118.00 1/0