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Rahane's time is running out

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Ajinkya_Rahane_Cricket_IndiaWhen Dravid bowed out of the Indian team, it seemed that having a new ‘Mr. Dependable’ in the middle was as unlikely as a modern game of cricket minus sledging.

But in the post-Dravid era, two men have ably shouldered the responsibility for scoring mightily well.

We know who they are.

Fans can paint a mental picture the moment phrases like “grit”, “reservoir of patience” or “tons of sweat” are thrown around.

In Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, India have two players who like a good challenge.

The duo isn’t daunted by difficult conditions. Their games are built on the painfully correct doctrine of hanging in there for long. It helps that your style is classical in an era favoring mishits, misguided strokes and a fetish for T20s.

But while the five-day contest has favored both in equal measure, in persisting with Rahane in ODIs – 78 games; 2,573 runs; 3 hundreds – India are over-utilizing a batsman whose talents, while they warrant automatic Test selection, may not be suited to the shorter formats.

Ever since debuting in Tests, Rahane has cruised along comfortably as a warship that can sail through seas both calm and troubled. 2,879 Test runs at a remarkable average of 47 certainly seems to a good measure of Rahane’s talent. If not, you could always consider that flourishing 132 at Colombo, or perhaps that blistering 188 against New Zealand at Indore last year. All these, and more, highlight Rahane’s Test abilities.

But there’s concern when you look at Rahane’s scores in the shorter format of the game.

In a format where India have more options than they know what to do with – Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson, Krunal Pandya, Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary and who knows, even Karun Nair as a recurring prospect at some time – why is Rahane still in consideration?

Yes, he mowed down the West Indies in West Indies: 336 runs from 5 games, including a fluent 102.

But apart from hitting the likes of the somnolent Roston Chase and Ashley Nurse, at best surprise wicket-takers, and the hugely inexperienced Miguel Cummins, how did Rahane fare against New Zealand in 2016?

A string of scores reading 33, 28, 5, 57 and 20 feature alongside the solid dependable batsman’s name. That’s no good. Or is it?

It seems to be a strange case concerning a batsman’s ODI abilities when he faced the same set of bowlers he had pummeled earlier in Tests: Southee, Boult and the rest. Even the staunchest of critics would take nothing away from Rahane’s 188 that came on a pitch as good for batting as you’ll ever see. Remember those lofty strokes to the mid-wicket? Or, the strong bottom-handed strokes, crafted to perfection?

But where did Rahane’s consistency go?

Whether it was indifferent form or a lackadaisical attitude in the preceding series against England, we can’t know for sure.

But just when you think Rahane’s ODI scores have been moderately impressive, even his Test showings from the last year and a half- point to a weakness.

Against Cook’s England- a series where Jimmy Anderson was safely concealed and used rather miserly- the likes of Adil Rashid and Woakes troubled him.

It didn’t help that he failed to get going even against Moeen Ali- a part time bowler and clearly India’s nemesis in recent contests.

Here’s sufficient proof: from the 3 Tests where Rahane was played (in the 5-Test series against England) he garnered 63 runs from 5 innings. Perhaps, as a result of his efforts, there was no place for Rahane in a larger chunk of the ODIs that followed.

Rahane contributed 1 run at Kolkata. This would be the only ODI India would lose in their 2-1 triumph over England.

But what does this mean?

It is time for India to look for more, consistent scorers for the ODI contests. With blokes like Samson or Nair, there’s sufficient bench strength that India no longer need to rely on the services of an established Test bat.

Ajinkya Rahane is a combination of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Mohammed Hafeez, while neither Nair nor Samson are anywhere near such comparisons for there’s hardly sizeable experience against their name.

But even from 37 first-class games, the 22-year-old Samson- who rose to fame in the Dravid-led Rajasthan Royals- has managed nearly 2,000 runs, with a high score of 211. He’s already struck 7 hundreds.

Meanwhile, from 47 first-class games, 25-year-old Nair, also a Test triple centurion, is already nearing 3500-run mark. An average of 50 points to the ability to collect runs, swiftly and freely, as the situation warrants.

So even as Rahane- who has more first-class games than the duo combined- boasts of a higher average than the young Kerala and Karnataka batters, signs are pointing to enough alternates available for India.

In the six cricketing seasons that Rahane has played, he has earned both respect and fans. Those shall stay. But the critics who go through life bashing others would point out a flaw that exudes from the good the mild-mannered bat.

In an age where myriad choices are available for an India so deeply motivated to gather overseas records and strengthen gatherings on home soil, time’s running out for Rahane. He needs to work on his craft, especially in the limited over format.

Do you remember the last when Rahane scored a phenomenal ODI knock in limited overs’ cricket against a top-notch side?

In 2016, he managed just 284 runs from 9 ODIs. No hundreds.

The previous year, he played 20 innings while donning the blues, but managed only 722 runs. Not a single hundred was scored.

So here’s what the likes of Kohli and his coach would have to consider if they wish to ride the contemporary template governing India’s game: give youngsters a chance.

Aren’t Krunal Pandya or Kedar Jadhav handy players whose games are suited for ODIs just as Ajinkya’s, given India have persisted with their number 5 Test batsman in ODIs?

Moreover, can Rahane bowl cleverly and scalp crucial wickets?

No. Ajinkya’s time is running out, and he needs to perform well if he wants to continue playing the shorter formats.

 

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