While all his India team-mates have started training in Pune on Wednesday for the short ODI series against England, Ajinkya Rahane was busy leading India A in the second warm-up game at the Brabourne Stadium on Thursday.
It was a practice match not only for the tourists but also for Rahane, who was playing in a competitive match after more than a month following an avulsion fracture on his right index finger while batting in the nets on the eve of the fourth Test in Mumbai.
Rahane not only passed the fitness test successfully but also put up runs on the board, getting used to the bowling attack that he will be facing in the ODIs over the next week. Rahane's knock of 91 (83 balls, 9x4, 1x6) as an opener in a winning cause has boosted his confidence even as he has been moved up and down the batting order based on the team's necessities.
In the last ODI series against New Zealand in October 2016, Rahane opened with Rohit Sharma as Shikhar Dhawan missed due to injury. That was also when MS Dhoni was the captain. Now, Virat Kohli is the new leader of Indian cricket and has his own ideas of playing aggressive cricket. With the competition for middle-order positions hot, India's chief coach said in Pune on Thursday that Rahane is looked at as a top-order batsman.
"At this point of time, yes he is looked as a top-order batsman only," Kumble said of Rahane's position. "In a One-Day format, I don't think there's a set batting order. So, at this point in time, he's still batting at the top of the order," Kumble even as Rahane was on his way to scoring 91 against the Englishmen some 143 kms away at the CCI.
Rahane has presented a strong case to continue opening with his Thursday's action-packed knock. He was in a hurry to finish the match quickly and join his team-mates in Pune, having missed two days of practice.
On a beautiful batting pitch at the Cricket Club of India – it was so good for batting that each of the first five India A batsmen had a strike rate in excess of 100.00 – Rahane scored at a brisk pace, something that was held against him when it came to limited-overs cricket. He made his intentions very clear by driving left-arm quick David Willey back past him while cutting and pulling Chris Woakes. The shot of the day was his cut over point for six off Jake Ball.
Rahane showed all was well with him. Along with the attacking Saurashtra batsman Sheldon Jackson (59, 56b, 7x4), Rahane raised 119 for the opening wicket.
The entertainment factor was provided by the fearless 19-year-old Delhi left-hander Rishabh Pant. Looking to attack from the first ball, Pant put his brave front up when he danced down the pitch to slap medium-pacer Liam Plunkett straight and followed it with a lofted shot over mid-on for fours.
Last year's Under-19 World Cupper, Pant gained his senior national selection on the basis of his big runs in his maiden full Ranji season including the fastest century ever in Ranji Trophy – 48 balls. He showed what he was made up of, reducing the England bowlers to mere net bowlers, particularly Jake Ball, off whom he picked up 19 runs in an over including a pulled-six over mid-wicket to reach his 50 off 32 balls.
After whacking Adil Rashid for six over long-on, Pant fell in the same region for 59 in 36 balls with eight fours and two sixes, bringing an end to the 78 runs in 8.4 overs with Rahane.
The finishing touches were given by Suresh Raina (45, 34b, 7x4), who was coming from a viral fever that saw him miss a majority of the Ranji season.
England, choosing to defend here after successfully chasing two nights ago, were once again given a good start by Jason Roy and Alex Hales, racing to 42 in five overs. They looked to score in the region of 350 before Ashok Dinda's two wickets off successive balls in the middle overs and tidy bowling by off-spinner Parvez Rasool and left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem pulled the strings back in India A's favour.
England, who slid from 116/1 to 198/8, were in danger of being dismissed for under 220 but thanks to Adil Rashid and David Willey's 71-run stand for the last wicket in 9.4 overs, England reached 282. That England lost six of their batsmen to last deliveries of an over is something that they will have to address before the series, just like how they regularly lost wickets soon after a session resumed during the Test series, nicking medium-pacers behind to give Pant four catches.
Brief scores: England 282 in 48.4 overs (J Roy 25, A Hales 51, J Bairstow 64, B Stokes 38, A Rashid 39, D Willey 38*; P Sangwan 2/64, A Dinda 2/55, S Nadeem 2/41, P Rasool 3/38) lost to India A 283/4 in 39.4 ov (A Rahane 91, S Jackson 59, R Pant 59, S Raina 45, D Hooda 23*)