The curious case of Ajinkya Rahane

Rahane has a poor record after playing in 80 ODIs since making his debut in 2011.

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Ajinkya Rahane must take a leaf out of Virat Kohli’s book. / AFP PHOTO / ISHARA S. KODIKARA (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Salman Khan
SALMAN KHAN

Sr. Staff Writer

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Even since he made his first-class debut for Mumbai, Ajinkya Rahane was destined for big things. Before making his India debut, Rahane boasted of an average of 67 in first-class cricket. He got his opportunity in ODIs first, a format which was said to be tailor-made for the Mumbaikar because of his attacking game.

It took him two more years to earn a Test debut and another 9 months to consolidate himself in the Test arena. He made centuries in trying conditions of Australia, New Zealand, England, West Indies and Sri Lanka. The 29-year old was elevated for his consistent performances when he was handed the duties of a vice-captain last year. He even led India in Kohli’s absence and helped them win a crucial game in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Rahane nailed Test spot, ODI spot always in jeopardy

While his Test stocks kept rising, his limited-overs career plummeted. So much that, now, he is the third opener and usually warms the bench if first-choice openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are available. He was shuffled a lot around the batting order in the last six years, having batted everywhere from No. 1 to 7. Under Dhoni, he got a longer rope at the No. 4 slot but the stumper himself admitted that Rahane struggles to put the ball away when the wicket is on the slower side.

Eventually, Rahane was taken away from the middle order and since then, has been around the team as a reserve opener. When Rohit Sharma was rested for the West Indies series, the right-hander came in and made 336 runs at 67.20 which helped him fetch the Man of the Series award. Overall, his career numbers – 2583 runs from 80 games at 33.98 is below par in today’s day and age. His strike rate – 78.15 – has always been under the scanner as the right-hander has struggled to rotate the strike in the middle overs. There is no doubt about his attacking instincts but Rahane needs to find a way to get runs when the field is spread out. Kohli has mentioned that Rahane is a top batsman but somehow puts himself into too much pressure whenever he puts colored clothing on.

He has had a decent time in the IPL and is one of the very few Indian cricketers who boast of a century in the cash-rich league. He did it much before Kohli got to the three-figure mark last season. After the Windies tour, Rahane was sidelined again to accommodate the returning Rohit Sharma. He got his chance in the last ODI against Sri Lanka but floundered it as he got out early, just like he did in the first ODI against Australia in Chennai. With Dhawan away to be with his ailing wife, Rahane will be provided with a couple more opportunities. Even if he scores consecutive centuries, his chances of holding on to his spot when Dhawan returns are minimal.

Rajput defends Rahane’s shortcomings in ODIs

Lalchand Rajput, who was recently appointed as the coach of the Assam team, has spent a lot of time with Rahane whenever the batsman was with the ‘A’ Team. According to Rajput, Rahane must be given a longer rope to justify his talent. Being a stop-gap arrangement is never easy as they struggle to find their mojo instantly.

“Irrespective of whatever is being said, Rahane hasn’t got a long enough run in the ODIs. What happens if a player features as a stop-gap arrangement is that it takes some time to get into a groove and it is not an easy place to be in. Rahane can not only play shots, he is capable of rotating the strike as well. But when you play once in a while, you might not get value for shots as you might pick the fielder instead of the gap. Rahane surely belongs to the top level, he just needs to be managed carefully,” observed Lalchand Rajput, who has worked with the batsman at various times.

Rahane is certain to be in the scheme of things for the 2019 World Cup. But given the success of the Dhawan-Rohit combination, it will be tough for the Test vice-captain to get a permanent slot in the ODI team. He needs to be spoken to about his role in the side, something which Sourav Ganguly has echoed in the past. Rahane is too good a player to miss out from any format and must be utilized by the Indian team in some category.