He is not considered a big hitter, yet he hits sixes with ease even in grounds as big as the MCG. He is typecast as a batsman technically sound and in the Test mode, yet he scores at more than run-a-ball with the same ease with which he plays his drives through covers. He is not considered a finisher who can take the attack to the bowlers and turn a match on its head, yet he has an IPL century to his name.
Ajinkya Rahane is everything he doesn’t look like on a cricket field and yet he is the new boy next door star of Indian cricket waiting for this World Cup to catapult him to heights he is quietly confident of reaching.
Against Pakistan in the first match, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had sent in Suresh Raina ahead of Rahane when Shikhar Dhawan was dismissed, probably because he wanted a left-hander to replace another. But the skipper did not say that in the post-match media conference. Instead he said Raina was sent ahead because he could score quickly and if Rahane was sent, it would have put undue pressure on him.
Seizing the chance
But the next Sunday against South Africa in a similar situation, with India on 136 for two in the 28th over, Dhoni sent in Rahane probably because he wanted a right-hander to replace Virat Kohli. But he did not say that. It was considered a test for Rahane to prove he could also score at will and he did it in style.
Rahane did a Raina. The left-hander had scored 74 off 56 against Pakistan. The right-hander scored 79 off 60 with seven fours and three sixes. All the while South Africa and the stands were concentrating on Dhawan, Rahane quietly played a match-winning knock.
“We had a chat with him, we said bat to your strength, use your timing because that’s really your strength. If you look to hit with power you lose shape and you can’t score freely. He backed his natural instinct. So I was very happy with his performance. Slowly with more games, I think he’ll start getting more and more runs,” Dhoni said.
There is another positive. For every run Rahane scores or he doesn’t, he does save a few on the field. “He’s one of the fittest guys. You see him on the field, he’s very quick, and his intensity actually never drops right from the first over until the 90th over if you see a Test match. This I feel is what fitness is all about.
It’s not all about how many bleep tests you can do. It’s really nice to see him on the field. Again he’s not someone who wants to always field at a particular position. Wherever there is an opportunity he’s willing to go there, whether it’s the boundaries, covers, leg slip, anywhere, so it becomes slightly easy for me as a captain,” Dhoni added.
In the past, Dhoni had said that in the limited over matches he was looking at a batting line-up where after the top three, it has to be flexible. With Rahane and Raina interchanging positions with ease and scripting success stories, Dhoni has half the job done.