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The Ajinkya Rahane conundrum
Over the last year, serious questions have been asked of Ajinkya Rahane’s form and quality in all three formats of the game for India. It is no secret that Rahane has had a relatively difficult time of it, with self doubt creeping in and confidence being low. People may be wondering that this was not the case in test cricket, but he did struggle from November to August this year even in his most prolific format. However, the scrutiny is firmly fixed on his role in the ODI team and indifferent performances mixed in with swashbuckling fifties is just making everyone even more confused. Arguably the most consistent batsmen of his generation in the Indian test team, why is the diminutive Mumbaikar not able to transfer the class into the limited overs format? Is too much being made of the situation and simply the virtue of time needs to be given?
The biggest criticism given to Rahane in the limited overs form of the game is his supposed lack of a high strike rate. In certain situations, he seems to get bogged down and cannot rotate the strike to give himself some respite. This situation is something he faces in the holy grail of test cricket, but he has the luxury of time on his side and so often over the last four years has dug India out of massive holes to match winning positions. In ODIs, he doesn’t have that time and often, the batsman is overshadowed by his more adored colleagues. Whether that be the genius of Virat Kohli, the elegance of Rohit Sharma or brute strength of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the demands on Rahane are to bat like them or at least have a similar strike rate. However, when we look at the winners of international tournaments in recent years, there are a variety of batsmen required to be successful. The world champion team of Australia had huge hitters opening in the form of David Warner and Aaron Finch but there were probably the only batsmen of that mode in the team. Steve Smith and Michael Clarke were the players who would keep the score ticking along in the middle overs while showing devastating power of their own. This paved the way for Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell to finish with a flurry of boundaries and take Australia to totals that were beyond the reach of any side. While Kohli states that Rahane is one of those players who can open or give balance to the side in the middle order, it is maybe time to give Rahane a chance at number four. He may finally show the talent and performance expected from such a brilliant player.
With the versatility the 29 year old has, India realised that they had a very special player at their disposal. Unfortunately, they have mistreated Rahane by moving him around the batting order time and again. For a time, this was the case in the test team too. Like always, he selflessly worked for the benefit of the team and often delivered in the test team. But the team management soon realised that Rahane was best suited to number five in the lineup, and the results and performance quality has been evident ever since. This shuffling around has taken place in his ODI career but he has not been able to show consistent brilliance like in the test format. The lack of clarity over his position in the team seems to show in his game, with indecision and doubts evident. Just like Sourav Ganguly said after his series winning performance in the West Indies, Kohli needs to specify what Rahane’s role is in the side. Is he for definite an opener or will he be used consistently in the middle order? The answer to this question is something that every journalist is seeking, least of all Rahane himself. This question must be answered if the team is to see the true qualities of the classical batsman, and then India will realise that they have yet another match winner on their hands.
So, a beautiful fifty in the last match against Australia must have given Rahane confidence. But, we are not sure what Rahane will turn up in the next game. As soon as he seems to have turned the corner in the limited overs format, an indifferent display puts him down the pecking order yet again. However, approval and trust from the management will give the boy from Mumbai added belief. Please BCCI and Ravi Shastri, make Rahane believe he is special in ODIs too. His biggest fan is waiting for all the critics to shut up.