As Ajinkya Rahane took the long walk towards the dressing room at Newlands, he might have feared for his place in the team. He had scored only one run in the second innings of the January 2022 Test against South Africa, after returning with nine runs in the first innings. India stood on the brink of a defeat – not only from the game’s perspective, but the series, too, was at stake.
Right on cue, he lost his Test spot — the only format he played in the past five years besides the IPL — and sustained a hamstring injury which cut short his stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders in 2022.
Yet, Rahane recovered and played the domestic season for Mumbai in all formats. He led Mumbai to the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 title and slowly started finding the touch with the bat. The 34-year-old exploded in the Ranji Trophy, scoring 634 runs, including a double hundred against Hyderabad.
And now, he is roaring in the yellow of Chennai Super Kings. He has the best strike rate in IPL 2023 at 199.04, after scoring 209 runs in five games at an average of 52.25.
Batters with great technique can be invincible when they have nothing to lose. From what we have seen so far in the 2023 Indian Premier League (IPL) season, it will not be far-fetched to deduce that Ajinkya Rahane has entered that phase of his career.
The middle-order batter smashed the fastest 50 of the season in 19 balls against Mumbai Indians, at the Wankhede Stadium in April's first week, before being beaten by Nicholas Pooran. On Sunday, he scored another off 24 balls en route to an unbeaten 71 off 29 balls against the Kolkata Knight Riders at the Eden Gardens.
Rahane, being the best contender, replaced the injured Shreyas Iyer in the World Test Championship final against Australia at The Oval in London.
Resurrection Under MS Dhoni’s Guidance
Rahane has not played T20Is for seven years, and his last ODI appearance came in 2018 against South Africa in Centurion. The start-stop international white-ball career, however, did not dampen his spirits, since he always had the technique to play game-changing knocks with a wide range of strokes.
Yet, the fluency in his game met with roadblocks amid constant scrutiny that pushed him into a lean patch. The former India Test vice-captain had to lower his base price to Rs 50 lakh ahead of IPL 2023, and it reunited him with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his first captain in all formats.
Dhoni's belief helped him rediscover the mojo. Suddenly the man known for playing conventional cricketing shots was scooping behind the wicket and above the slip cordon. He was always a ferocious puller, but the intensity has doubled this season.
Rahane is trying to resurrect his career, and the timing is right since Iyer's recovery from the back surgery could take over two months. Besides that, Suryakumar Yadav's lack of international Test experience also worked in Rahane's favour, having proved his mettle in the trying English conditions earlier in his career.
Jack of All Trades
Rahane mastered the art of tackling seamers in the UK by playing close to the body. The batter has 729 runs in 15 Test matches in England, with a hundred and five fifties. He will be keen to display his skills further when he joins Leicestershire in the 2023 county season. In 2019, the Indian batter represented Hampshire.
A member of Dhoni's World Cup side in 2015, he might be a good choice in the ODI setup too as Suryakumar hasn't inspired confidence in the 50-over format. Rahane has not played ODIs for some time; bringing him back for the World Cup could be a masterstroke. He has a fire in the belly and could be India's No 4 in the mega event.
Rahane's ODI statistics flaunt three centuries and 24 fifties among the 2,962 runs in 90 games.
The Best Is Yet To Come
Always a man of few words, Rahane sounded positive and full of confidence while speaking to reporters after the knock against KKR, his former team in the league. He believes getting the opportunity to play matches in the IPL is a turning point in his career.
I still feel the best is yet to come. I am not thinking about myself. I want to continue this form for the team. In the past two years, I was not getting regular opportunities. So how will you show your range of shots if you don't play? There is a lot to learn when you play with Dhoni. You have to develop yourself at every step in this format. My preparation was always there. I just wanted to add a few more shots. You should back your own style and method after seeing the field. Everybody has their own style.Ajinkya Rahane
Rahane is strong on intent, no matter which team he represents. "Intent to me is doing well for the team. How badly you are thinking about your team. I let my bat do the talking," said Rahane, who had led India to a Test series win in Australia in 2020-21 in Virat Kohli's absence.
The decline, post the series Down Under, was unexpected. He was the hero after pulling India out of the 36 all out horror by leading with example in Melbourne, where he scored a century. A world title may satiate a bit of Rahane's hunger.
Dinesh Karthik made a World Cup comeback after 12 years in 2019 and that should inspire Rahane, for the best is yet to come.