Ajinkya Rahane has been on a rampage ever since India’s tour to the Windies began. After Rohit Sharma was rested for the series, Rahane was the preferred choice for the opener’s slot alongside Shikhar Dhawan. Virat Kohli made it pretty clear before the start of the series that Rahane will open in all the 5 matches.
And boy did he repay the faith of the captain! He has been India’s best batsman on the tour so far. In the first match, he scored 62 and then notched up a splendid hundred in the second match. Next, when the odds were against the batsmen on a tough surface in the 3rd match, he played a gritty knock of 72 off 112 balls that held the innings together.
His form in the ODI format has come in as a good news for the Indian team but the bad news for Rahane is that Rohit Sharma will walk into the side for the next tour and occupy the opener’s position without a doubt. Rohit’s record as an opener is incredible and he can’t be subsided. Shikhar Dhawan too has been in a superb form and doesn’t seem to go away anytime soon.
It becomes a tricky situation for Rahane then. How does he find a place in the playing XI then? The answer is simple. He has to look to mould his game to suit the needs of a middle-order batsman. Virat Kohli is a certainty at number 3 but Yuvraj Singh’s form has been indifferent which could be the spot that Rahane might look for.
A memorable knock batting at number 4
Perhaps the best innings Rahane has played in his ODI career so far came against South Africa in the 2015 ODI World Cup. It was a league game in Melbourne where India batted first. Rahane walked in to bat in the 28th over after the fall of Virat Kohli when the score read 136/2.
The run rate was a tad over 5 and a set Shikhar Dhawan was at the other end. Normally, one would have speculated someone like Suresh Raina or MS Dhoni at that stage of the game to come out but Rahane did exactly what was required of a number 4 batsman. He went after the bowlers and upped the ante at the right time.
His knock of 79 off 60 balls included 7 fours and 3 sixes that propelled India to a score of 307 at the end of 50 overs which ultimately proved to be good enough for the Proteas. Rahane needs to take a leaf out of that particular knock and look to do more of that in the future.
Too good a batsman to warm the bench
The right-hander was a part of India’s Champions Trophy squad this year but he didn’t get to play a single game. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma did a tremendous job throughout the tournament that didn’t even trigger a thought of bringing Rahane in.
He was always the backup opener in the squad and would have been slotted in the XI in the case of an injury to any of the openers. But for a player of Rahane’s class, he can’t spend that much time on the sidelines. India needs to utilize the skills of the 29-year-old.
A T20 like approach can help
The best way for Rahane to keep a place in the XI is to be more explosive in his approach while batting in the middle order. It has been observed that he struggles to score quickly once the fielding restrictions are lifted. He finds it difficult to rotate the strike once the field is spread.
What might work in his favor is to approach the middle overs like a T20 game. In the IPL, he usually opens the innings and crafts his knock in such a way that he ends with a strike rate of above 120. He doesn’t hit huge sixes like others but manages to find the fence without too much effort.
That’s what he can do in the 50-over format too. If he can’t turn the strike over, he needs to look to find the boundaries. Even though he doesn’t muscle the ball, the class of his batting is good enough to find fours on a regular basis.
Additionally, Kohli has mentioned that Rahane can be used as a floater in the line-up and hence, he needs to prepare himself for all occasions. From batting at the top to finishing the innings, he can be required to do just about anything as per the skipper.
To conclude, Rahane is too good a batsman to be a backup opener all the time. He is one of the best batsmen in the country presently. The opener’s slot will be taken away from him shortly and with the next ODI World Cup less than a couple of years away, he needs to find a way to break into the middle order. If he can work his way out, India will have a dependable batsman in the middle order for years to come.