End of roads for Ajinkya Rahane, the T20 batter?

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Ajinkya Rahane in action during KKR's IPL 2022 match against Delhi Capitals

IPL

End of roads for Ajinkya Rahane, the T20 batter?

Ajinkya Rahane was one of India's regulars in red-ball cricket before he was axed from the squad in their two-Test series against Sri Lanka last month. The KKR signed him at the 2022 mega-auction with the hope to see him re-emerge, but all he managed was 80 runs in five outings so far this season.

When Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane walked out to bat for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Sunday (April 10) afternoon, there was no time to get his eye in at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. The Purple and Gold Brigade were on a mission to reach the mammoth target of 216 against Delhi Capitals (DC), ten runs more than their highest successful run chase in the competition.

Rahane, fondly called ‘Jinx’ by his teammates, began the KKR innings in possibly the most dramatic fashion. He was given out twice in the opening two balls by the on-field umpire, and the DRS came to the rescue on both occasions. Then, the third ball bowled by Mustafizur Rahman got an outside edge before it went to Rishabh Pant’s big gloves, but surprisingly, no one even appealed.

It is difficult to exaggerate Rahane’s agony since then. The 33-year-old only played one good shot during the stay when he shuffled inside the line and flicked a ball off Shardul Thakur to the fine leg boundary for four. Incidentally, a brilliant catch by Shardul while sprinting back ensured the end of his struggle, as he walked back to the pavilion slowly with a score of eight from 14 balls.

Before the DC match, Rahane seemed to be blunt and looked out of touch too, even in his native state Maharashtra. Since hitting 44 off 34 against Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2022 opener, his next three innings’ scores of 10-ball 9, 11-ball 12, and 11-ball 7 respectively left him embarrassed. Sometimes it feels like he is focusing on every ball but yet, they are similar to hand grenades against him.

More often than not, Rahane tried to club the balls but failed to intensify the demands. Even when the bowlers erred fractionally, he failed to make the most of the opportunities. He could have and should have fetched better, as Yuvraj Singh wrote in his autobiography ‘The Test of my Life’, “Aggression is not anger, aggression comes from performance.”

A veteran of 4,021 runs in 156 IPL matches, Rahane was signed up by the KKR at his base price of INR 1 crore at the 2022 mega auction. Before that, he was traded to Delhi Capitals (DC) in November 2019 and got 11 chances across two editions to impress. His numbers, considering his lofty standards, (121 runs at a strike rate of 102.8) were in steep decline.

Over the years, Rahane is widely known as a player who loves to keep things simple. During the major part of his career, he calculated the equation, targetted the bowlers, read the field, and then went for an attack. But ever since he joined the DC, it seems like he is struggling to find the potent sweet spot of his bat.

He (Rahane) was calm, relaxed and composed. He had aggressive intent but aggression was rightly balanced by calmness and surety. So he did not miss opportunities when a boundary ball was there. And when one had to be patient, he was patient. The intent was very good.”

Sachin Tendulkar after India's triumph in Australia in 2020/21.

Many might have forgotten the fact that Rahane missed out on winning the Orange Cap by a thin margin in IPL 2015, He accumulated 540 runs in 13 outings at a reasonable strike rate of 130.75, 22 fewer than David Warner’s tally of 562. His fundamental simplicity was working on a different level in IPL 2012 and 2013 as well, as he had 560 and 480 runs in respective seasons.

In 2019, the Rajasthan Royals re-appointed Rahane as their skipper. He was not prepared to tackle failures back then, scoring 393 runs in 14 outings at 137.89, his highest-ever strike rate in an IPL season. But ever since the edition ended, his hunger for runs went downwards whether playing for club or country.

Considering his age at the wrong side of 30, Rahane could not find any better place in IPL 2022 than KKR, a side that did not acquire any genuine reliable Indian opener at the 2022 mega auction barring him. Yet he failed, at least in the initial stages of the ongoing edition, but there may be one or two chances more coming for him, given his franchise’s skipper Shreyas Iyer’s words after the DC onslaught.

“Absolutely not worried about the starts we're getting. But when you're chasing 214-215 you need to get off to a really good start. I wouldn't blame anyone in this particular chase. But, yes, we have this history in the last few games that we didn't get really good starts and obviously that is also something we need to work on. 

“And this is just the early stage of the tournament. So, once we start practising more, start executing stuff really well on the field, I think, things will be really taken care of pretty well,” noted Shreyas after the match was over.

Now time will tell whether Shreyas will stick to his words and give Rahane another chance to light up, despite giving him ample opportunities already. But considering his form, there is, of course, an uncertain future for India’s one of the most-prolific red-ball batters. The prospect of making a comeback in India’s Test set-up is almost bleak for the veteran as well, as his long-term probable replacement, none other than Shreyas himself, made his mark against Sri Lanka with all his talent and consistency.

To conclude, Rahane is no way near right now as he used to be during his formative years. Although he continues to thrive, it is safe to say that there is little opportunity for the fans to watch the re-emergence of Rahane, especially in the limited-overs cricket.

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