Ajinkya Rahane 103: Is He India's Best Batsman Away from Home?

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Ajinkya Rahane 103: Is He India's Best Batsman Away from Home?
Stu Forster/Getty Images

On a day of three thirds, Ajinkya Rahane's mature and classic century on a difficult surface gave India the honours, as they ended Day 1 of the Lord's Test at 290 for nine, up from 145 for seven at one stage.

The Anderson-Jadeja Pushgate scandal had dominated headlines in the build-up to the second Test of this five-match series between England and India at the home of cricket.

Then, on Thursday morning, no one seemed to care about who pushed whom as the ground staff revealed the pitch to the public—it resembled a snooker table rather than a cricket pitch.

But by the end of the day, even the most hallowed turf in the world of cricket was pushed to the background, as a 26-year-old Indian batsman playing in just his seventh Test match, who had grown up batting on baked surfaces in Mumbai, provided a masterclass in how to bat and entertain on the green.

England had rectified their errors in length from the first session by the time Rahane walked out to bat for the first time in his career at Lord's, just after lunch. The hosts were bowling a lot fuller than before and James Anderson had just scalped Virat Kohli (25) with an almost unplayable delivery.

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Rahane survived what has now become a customary afternoon session middle-order collapse for India, as he lost the company of Cheteshwar Pujara (28), MS Dhoni (1) and Ravindra Jadeja (3) before tea. Save for Jadeja, who was trapped in front by spinner Moeen Ali, all of Rahane's partners fell to fullish deliveries that extracted enough from the green to fox the tourists.

But Rahane hung on and refused to let his pin fall.

It wasn't pretty in the beginning. Rahane is a batsman who can appear a little scratchy when the conditions are difficult and usually takes some time to settle in.

As the session progressed, Rahane settled in by grooming full-length deliveries outside off to the cover boundary. On such a pitch, it was a gutsy effort as he slowly started accumulating the runs. What was planned to perfection was his picking of the right deliveries to score runs off.

Rahane soon had the crowd, who had booed Jadeja's entry and cheered his swift exit, behind him. As he leaned into his front-foot cover drives and stood tall and sturdy while punching and cutting shorter deliveries off his back-foot, the cheers grew louder.

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His mighty pulls to the fence soon overshadowed any pushes and shoves that might have transpired in the players' tunnel at Trent Bridge last week. An effortless and picturesque straight drive for six off Anderson's bowling revealed his halo.

Rahane brought the action back to the cricket field in a delightful manner, as he played responsibly with the lower order and dug India out of trouble. Receiving much-needed support from Bhuvneshwar Kumar (36) and Mohammed Shami (14 not out), Rahane wrestled the control of the match back from the hosts, without so much as an ounce of aggression.

With a solid punch off the back-foot to the cover fence off the bowling of Anderson, Rahane soon brought up his second Test century in his 12th innings, adding to a couple more fifties. The introvert that he is, his reaction to a hundred at Lord's was restricted to a smile towards the Indian dressing room and raised arms while looking to the skies.

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Thus, Rahane became only the ninth Indian to get his name on the famous honours board at Lord's and the first in his maiden appearance at the venue since Sourav Ganguly's debut ton in 1996, per statistician Mohandas Menon.

Out of Rahane's 538 Test runs so far, 530 have come away from home, where he averages just under 59. Since a forgetful debut against Australia at home last summer, the next six Tests he has played have all been on foreign fields, where he has thrived.

In Durban last year, he missed out on a century by a whisker. In Wellington earlier this year, he finally got to three figures in an innings which was quite similar to Lord's.

In just six months of his first Test away from home, Rahane is now the leading Indian run-scorer in foreign conditions for the past two years, overtaking Virat Kohli on Thursday.

His ton at Lord's not only proved his traditional class as a batsman, but went further in cementing his role as an all-weather player—an invaluable quality for an Indian cricketer.

It was only fair that a superb reflex catch taken by Anderson—England's best bowler—would result in Rahane's wicket less than four overs before stumps.

Rahane may have missed out on the privilege of leading the pack back to the dressing rooms at the end of the day's play, but it is due to him that India ever came close to such a scenario.

Durban and Wellington may not have resulted in an Indian win. Perhaps even Lord's may not. But what India have gained in Rahane's prowess is nothing less looking ahead.

All statistics via ESPN Cricinfo unless otherwise stated.

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