The moment he placed the ball to the empty deep mid-wicket boundary, Ajinkya Rahane raised his bat to acknowledge the praise from his teammates and his captain at the other end. This is a sight that Indian fans have gotten used to albeit in the whites of the Test team. But then again, we’ve seen it a few times in the blue jersey too, so this raises the question – Why isn’t Ajinkya Rahane a regular starter for the Indian team?
What works for Rahane is his excellent temperament. First and foremost, he plays the game in the most simple and effective manner possible, relying on his sound technique and ability to pick out gaps as well as go on the attack when the secondary bowlers are in charge. All sounds like the hallmark of a good batsman, but that’s where Rahane stands – on the cusp of good and great, at least in cricket with coloured clothing.
Inability to push that final barrier:
Rahane is a sure starter in the Test team. This much is certain and hopefully his good form continues for years to come as Indian cricket navigates and looks to capitalize on a future of dominance. Rahane is a good ODI and T20 player too. It is his inability to become a great player that hampers him from starting in the team.
Look at the current Indian setup, at least from a batting perspective and there are two places that are under the scanner – one of Yuvraj Singh and the other of Kedar Jadhav. Dhoni might have lost his power due to age, but his wicket-keeping skills are more than enough to keep him in the squad. And Dhoni has done enough to be deemed a starter for a couple of years at least, though that isn’t his style of going about things.
Rahane was drafted into this Indian squad as someone who could bat at any position, primarily in the top order. His century against the West Indies was assured batting, taking risks only when the field was up and when the bowlers bowled poor lengths. Why it is that Rahane can’t cement his spot in the team then?
This is a man who cracked a wonderful century in the 2015 World Cup versus the South Africans. Primary to his predicament is his inability to choose one spot in the team to cement. As an opener, he averages 42.93 in ODIs and between 33 to 35 in the other positions – therein, lies the core problem. Rahane has been around for 70 innings but still hasn’t been able to get those numbers up.
Competition for too many places:
There is so much competition for the places in the Indian squad. KL Rahul is the other opener looking to slot in whenever Dhawan and Rohit aren’t available and he’s very good. At 25, he has age on his side too and can only get better.
This leaves Rahane with the option of batting either at number 3 or 4. Kohli cannot be replaced and Yuvraj and Dhoni still hold enough to be the first-choice starters in the following positions.
Number 6 is too deep into the order for Rahane’s class and he’s not someone who can slog either – as is required from someone in that part of the batting order.
Thus, we will never get to see a Rahane playing day in and out for the ODI and T20 team and in more reasons than one, it is a problem that cancels itself out – good for Indian cricket and bad for the Mumbai lad.
By Rohit Nair