The IPL has settled nicely into its groove and moves in to its second week as Rising Pune Supergiant takes on the Delhi Daredevils. The Supergiant has contrasting fortunes in their opening two games; after having chased a huge total against Mumbai, they couldn’t post a big total while batting first against the Kings XI Punjab, and the inexperience in their bowling lineup didn’t help matters.
The Supergiant boast of the strongest batting line-up in the tournament with the best batsman, best all-rounder and best finisher in the world coming in at 3, 4 and 5. However, the Pune franchise’s fortunes heavily depend on their calm and composed opener, Ajinkya Rahane’s, start.
While Smith definitely stole the headlines with 80 odd runs during the mammoth chase against Mumbai, it was Rahane who set it up perfectly for the Australian skipper with an aggressive, yet well controlled 60 in just 34 balls. In the second game, Rahane looked ominous before he fell to debutant Natarajan with the score only reading 36. The Supergiant were immediately under pressure. Stokes played a good innings and they could post 160 odd, a decent score but a good 20 runs short of what they would have liked.
In the IPL, Rahane has always been at home opening the innings and building a base for the slog overs, announcing his arrival in style by smashing 103 for the Rajasthan Royals in 2012, under the guidance of a certain Rahul Dravid. He averages over 35 in nearly 100 games and strikes it a decent rate of 121 per 100 balls. In fact, he has only been dismissed 33 times in the Powerplay in the 82 instances he has opened the innings – a brilliant record in the T20 format.
Surprisingly though, Rahane hasn’t been able to translate these performances in the ODIs for India. Despite having played 73 games, Rahane averages a mere 32 – a poor return for a batsman of his calibre. It has to be taken in to consideration that Rahane hasn’t opened the innings regularly at international level and has been moved up and down the order depending on various situations and team compositions.
Having played 43 innings at the top of the order, he averages around 33 at a strike rate of 75, a below average return in modern day limited overs cricket. At 3&4, Rahane has scored 879 runs at 33, striking it at 80 per 100 deliveries. He quickly gets bogged down and finds it difficult to rotate the strike, a problem that Dhoni has highlighted in the past. In Tests, with no pressure to score quickly, he faces no such problem; the ability to play a boundary stroke at will and a good technique bailing him out more often than not. A free flowing run scorer with a repertoire of strokes, Rahane finds it difficult to mix caution with aggression – probably, the best way to explain his good record in Tests and T20, but a below par average in ODIs.
With the Champions Trophy lined up right after the IPL, and with the likes of Manish Pandey and Jadhav slowly cementing their place in the middle order, opening the innings might just be Rahane’s key to survival. With the exception of Kohli, Rohit Sharma has been India’s best ODI player in the last couple of years and he occupies one of the opening slots making the competition even tougher for Rahane.
A good performance in the IPL might just be sufficient for Rahane to book his place for the Champions Trophy but with the evolving game of slam bang cricket and a number of youngsters knocking on the doors of national selection, Rahane might be reduced to Test specialist soon. But, until then let’s just sit back and enjoy the purity that Rahane’s batting brings to modern day game – a calmness that he carries amidst the hustle and bustle of fast paced cricket.