New Delhi: Will he, won't he? The long wait for Ajinkya Rahane's Test debut could be extended further with the BCCI selectors announcing on Tuesday that Suresh Raina had been called up as back-up batsman for the injured opener Shikhar Dhawan.
Dhawan, who was Man of the Match on Test debut, will not play the fourth and final match against Australia starting here on Friday due to a finger injury sustained in the field in Mohali. The BCCI released the squad for the Feroz Shah Kotla Test with the following text following confirmation that Dhawan will be out of action for six weeks:
"The All-India Senior Selection Committee then added Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina to the squad for the fourth Test. However, Gambhir has been diagnosed with jaundice, after undergoing a blood test, earlier today. The official announcement of the team was delayed, as the Board was waiting for the copy of the report. Gambhir will not take part in the Delhi Test, as a result."
So, an injured opener is replaced by a middle-order batsman. Though Rahane has batted in the top three for Mumbai for his entire career - he started out as an opener and shifted down to No. 3 later - he has been included in the current Test squad as a middle-order batsman. There are two scenarios facing Rahane: first, that India hand him a debut as opener - he is a qualified opener in ODIs and domestic cricket - to partner Murali Vijay; second, that India push Cheteshwar Pujara up the order as they did in Ahmedabad in November and in Mohali on Monday, during the second innings.
With Raina included as a reserve batsman, the second scenario is entirely plausible. Up goes Pujara, in comes Raina into the middle order and out sits Rahane as he has been doing for over a year with India's Test squad. Boasting a first-class average of over 62, and with 19 centuries to his name, Rahane went to Australia and warmed the bench. New Zealand toured for two Tests, and Rahane warmed the bench despite VVS Laxman having retired just before the series. In his place, Raina played and scored 3, 55 and 0 in three innings. Next came the visit by England, and Rahane looked on from the dressing room as Yuvraj Singh was ushered back from into the Test team. Failures in Mumbai and Kolkata resulted in Yuvraj being axed, but still Rahane was left to watch mutedly as the selectors drafted in Ravindra Jadeja as a middle-order replacement.
At this stage Rahane was deemed a back-up opener, along with Vijay. Then came the Australia series, and Rahane was retained as a middle-order batsman. Gautam Gambhir was dropped, Vijay returned in his place at the top. Virender Sehwag was next to go, and Shikhar Dhawan was handed a debut. All the while Rahane remained quite. At practice in Mohali, around the time that it was announced that Dhawan would play, Rahane wore a dejected look as he packed up his gear and headed inside. The disappointment was palpable.
Now we are looking at the Delhi Test, two days away. A whitewash looms, and it should be Rahane who gets a chance to debut and savor what should be India's first 4-0 series victory ever. It's been a very long wait for a Test debut, and it would be a travesty should Rahane again be made to watch as another batsman is pitch-forked ahead of him from out of the blue. If you're not rewarding domestic form and consistency, what's the point of keeping Rahane in the squad?