Perseverance. Perfection. Patience. The first few words that come to your mind when you talk about Ajinkya Rahane. Seven years back when he scored 51* and 96 at Kingsmead, he was touted as the next Rahul Dravid for the resilience he displayed with the bat.
One of the most sophisticated batsmen who hails from Mumbai which has produced a plethora of batting talents over the years. However one feels for Rahane who had toiled hard in domestic cricket before finally making the cut. He was already referred to as a run machine long before he made his first-ever international appearance in 2011. Such was his dejection that he even famously stated, “What more do I have to do to make it to the Indian team?”
It was only in 2011 when he could finally lay his concerns to rest after receiving a national call-up. However, it wasn’t till 2013 that he could carve out a permanent place for himself in the playing XI. While he became a sensation in red-ball cricket, he also went on to represent India in three back-to-back World Cup squads from 2014 to 2016.
Like Dravid, he too has often been criticized for his slow batting in the format. While Dravid found a way to survive and went on to become one of the elite batsmen in the 50-over format, the same hasn’t been the case for Rahane. His strike rate has failed to catch-up with the demands of modern-day cricket in the limited-overs format. A strike rate of 78.63 didn’t inspire much confidence. Since his debut, it’s the lowest strike rate by an Indian batsman with more than 1000 runs in ODIs.
While he has batted at No.4 in 25 One-Dayers, Rahane naturally comes across as an opener. But in the era of Dhawan and Rohit who have gone on to become India’s most successful opening pair, after Sachin and Ganguly, there’s little that the 32-year-old can do to break in. But he has proved his proficiency with the bat time and again. The whole 2017 season, Rahane donned the blues and opened the innings every time either of Dhawan or Rohit was injured or rested. It was probably the best year of his ODI career as he amassed 586 runs at an average of 48.83.
However, once the regular openers were back in shape, the Indian management in their bid to push Rahane in the ODI side adjusted him at the middle order. The No.4 position had been nothing less than a game of musical chairs but Rahane responded well. In his second stint at that position, he started off with a promising knock of 79. However, just like the previous occasion, his performances faded away in the series. His strike rate of 76.92 then also came into the scanner.
That was the last anyone saw of Rahane in the ODI format. His poor performance in the IPL which also saw him being shelved from captaincy as well as KL Rahul’s emergence meant that he was soon out of favor. When India faced an injury outbreak in the 2019 World Cup, the selectors decided to go ahead with an uncapped Mayank Agarwal despite Rahane’s good showing in the recently concluded IPL.
Even his franchise Rajasthan Royals let him go despite being their top run-scorer last year, which was surprising. He scored 393 runs with the bat at a strike rate of 137.89 which is his highest in IPL history. Yet, Rahane now finds himself in troubled waters because Delhi Capitals already boast of a solid top order with the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, and Shreyas Iyer. The possibility of roping in another Mumbaikar in the top order seems quite unlikely.
As of now, the Men in Blue have Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul in the fray alongside competitors Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Shubman Gill, and Agarwal. With selectors focusing on young blood, it’s highly unlikely that any statement from Rahane with the bat will appeal highly to the selectors. He will be 35 by the time the next ODI World Cup takes place.
If he performs well, perhaps we may see the Test vice-captain don the blues again. But do we really want to go back rather than focusing on the fresh legs? Especially after the management backing Yuvraj and Rayudu to the hilt before going ahead with a young and inexperienced Rishabh Pant in the World Cup. We all know how that panned out for us. The time is to foster youngsters and keep them ready for the next big tournament at home. In the meantime, Rahane can help us win laurels in the whites.