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Can India afford to play the waiting game with Rahane as they once did with Rohit?

by Gaurav Sethi

his is quite disorienting, MS Dhoni is captain on 10 January, Ajinkya Rahane is captain on 12 January, and come 15 January, Virat Kohli will be captain. And continue to be captain for the rest of the series unless there are some more farewells and India A matches thrown in for good measure.
But that’s beside the point: The point is, Ajinkya Rahane of India’s ODIs in Zimbabwe fame, will be in-charge, showcasing his credentials after injury put an end to a bad run against England in the Test series.
While Mohammad Azharuddin has declared he wants to start fresh, Rahane will empathise. In the absence of Rohit Sharma, he has a shot at opening the innings again. And for once, not in Zimbabwe, not in the IPL but in an ODI.
India's Ajinkya Rahane. Reuters
India's Ajinkya Rahane. Reuters
In over five years since his ODI debut, Rahane of Test cricket fame, hasn’t quite cut it in the shorter format. Or for that matter, the shortest format where he isn’t a part of the squad.
The numbers are stacked against him, an ODI average of 32.88, a strike rate of a shade less than 80, it doesn’t look like he’s playing in 2017. Maybe 30 some years back it would have been more than acceptable but now you can end up in a state of constant examination.
A state that creates cracks and questions within an already unsettled game – one that works at forcing the pace, somewhat awkwardly, playing shots that don’t quite come naturally.
Of this playing across the line, trying to bully a ball on off or outside off to the leg side appears to be a common shortcoming – and a common mode of dismissal. A game based heavily on timing, is looking to break free from its confines, often unknowing of its strengths, looking to tap new strengths, through brute force that doesn’t quite exist.
Which is where Rahane appears to be going against the grain. The best slipper in the team, Rahane is an asset to the team with his fielding alone. But fielding alone doesn’t book you a spot in the playing XI, it however does make you a great 12th man.
As Kohli’s deputy in the Test team and possibly his right hand man in the ODIs, it’s up to Kohli, as much as it is to Rahane now – what next? Since his debut in September, 2011, Rahane has played only 72 ODIs. He’s been more out of than in the team.
In these 72 ODIs, Rahane has opened the batting 42 times. His two centuries, scored within months of each other in 2014, were both made as an opener. However, Rahane’s numbers aren’t too different from his overall stats when he opens the batting – the average is just .007 higher (not quite Bond) to 32.95, his strike rate in fact slides to 77 from 78.98.
Today, it all seems hunky dory with Rohit’s one-day career, 10 centuries, batting average of 41, striking at 84.43. But what was it like when he had played, like Rahane, 72 ODIs?
Uncannily, Rohit’s numbers aren’t too different from Rahane, maybe it’s a Mumbai thing, who knows – Rohit’s batting average from his first 72 ODIs was 34.80 (Rahane’s 32.88). Strike rates quite similar too, Rohit’s was 79.14 (Rahane’s 78.98).
After 72 ODIs, Rohit also had two centuries. While Rohit had 11 fifties, Rahane has 16.
After his second ODI century on 30 May, 2010, it took Rohit over three years and four months to score his third ODI century – 60 more ODIs (58 more innings). After that 141* on 16 October, 2013, seven more centuries followed, two doubles included.
Today, the ODI wait seems more of an investment in Rohit’s career. Will India have the same patience with Rahane? Is he a part of the 2019 World Cup plans?
It seems more likely that today both India and Kohli are looking at Rohit and KL Rahul as their first choice openers. Both players are also the first choice when injuries strike. And that is where Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan could come into the picture.
The next few weeks may determine how far Rahane’s one-day appetite takes him. The next trip to Zimbabwe or a first choice opener in England for the Champions Trophy.
It’s time for Rahane to trust his hands again. Therein lies the timing. The time is now. Catch. Like you often do, that runaway ball in the slips.
First published here

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