Ajinkya Rahane should be given a good run at the top of the order

Ajinkya Rahane… With two bouncers permitted in ODIs, an adept short-pitched delivery player like Rahane could turn out to be a thorn in the flesh of the opposition at the top of the batting line-up © Getty Images

By Karthik Parimal

It has been a forgettable year for the Indian cricket team, both in whites and the blues. While the limited-overs stage has usually been its forte, the side’s decline has been alarming, to say the least. In 17 One-Day Internationals (ODI) played this year, the Indians have won just nine, and seven of those victories have come against Sri Lanka. They were sent packing from the Commonwealth Bank (CB) Series, crashed out of the Asia Cup after being trumped by Bangladesh, and have concluded this year with a defeat to Pakistan at Chennai. A 4-1 win against Sri Lanka in an insignificant series has been the lone bright spot.

The Indian team has always been heavily dependent on its openers. Whenever India has done well in an ODI game during recent times, it’s largely due to the fact that one of the top-order batsmen has anchored the innings. Unfortunately, such knocks have been few and far between by Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag in 2012, and although the former has averaged 42.81, the runs have come in a rather unconvincing manner.

Sehwag’s predicaments post the 2011 World Cup is still an issue of concern too, and his failure at the top has hindered India’s chances. In ten matches this year, Sehwag has scored 217 runs at an average of 21.7, with just one half-century – a highest of 96 against Sri Lanka. His scores in the last ten innings read as follows: 4, 34, 3, 15, 96, 30, 5, 0, 20 and 10. Moreover, frequent injuries haven’t helped his case either. Together, Gambhir and Sehwag have opened six times in ODIs this year and could manage a highest of just 52 against the Australians back in February.

On the other hand, Ajinkya Rahane has been consistently delivering, but his place in the eleven remains uncertain. Whenever picked, he continues to impress, and his scores of 42 and 28 in the two T20 internationals against Pakistan last week can be evidence of that. He fearlessly played over the in-field, unleashed his repertoire of strokes and got India off to a flyer on both occasions, something both Gambhir and Sehwag have struggled to do during recent times. Yet, he’s often sidelined due to the presence of experienced, albeit underperforming, players. One wonders what else is expected of Rahane, especially when the likes of Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja continue to get an extended run despite their lean patch.

It could augur well for India if Rahane becomes a regular fixture in the top-order, at least in the overs-limit format of the game for now, alongside Gambhir. Also, considering the recent amendment of rules in the ODIs, it could prove to be beneficial if Sehwag bats a little lower in the line-up, as his aggressive approach could come in handy when the spinners come in to play during the middle overs with just four fielders outside the inner circle. Moreover, he’d be an apt occupant of the No.5 position, and it’d also ensure that a talented, performing youngster doesn’t lose out on a berth in the side. With two bouncers now permitted in ODIs, an adept short-pitched delivery player like Rahane could turn out to be a thorn in the flesh of the opposition at the top of the batting line-up.

It’s unlikely that the next two ODIs against Pakistan will see a change of openers or a major shuffling of the batting order. However, there’s no denying the fact that a deserving youngster is warming the benches rather than being a part of the action on the field. Also, it’s imperative that Sehwag realises his role in the side. He must be willing to make way for a youngster or to float across the line-up if need be, should he fail to perform at Kolkata and Delhi. Of late, Gambhir too has slackened, but statistics reveal that he could still be an asset in ODIs.

Considering the fact that their bowling department is frail, it’s essential that the Indian batsmen put up formidable scores on the board, and for that to happen, it’s important that the openers fire. Also, the side needs someone who can consolidate by batting at No.5. Roping in Rahane and moving Sehwag into the middle-order could be a shot in the arm.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)