Ajinkya Rahane keeps performing, while selectors keep ignoring

Ajinkya Rahane has missed the cut for the Indian squad for the upcoming home series against Australia. But then, that has been the story of Rahane’s career, hasn’t it? © PTI

By Jaideep Vaidya

There were two shots that Rajasthan Royals’ Ajinkya Rahane played in the Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) 2013 semi-final against the Chennai Super Kings which were true depictions of the talent that he is but, sadly, wasted by the national selectors.

It was the 12th over of the innings with the Royals moving along steadily at 75 for three, Rahane and Shane Watson were looking settled in the middle. Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s best spinner, was the bowler. Always looking to outsmart the batsman in this shortest format of the game, Ashwin went for the googly, but erred by pitching it a tad too short.

Rahane was as calm as a cat on a hot summer afternoon as he stepped down, made himself some room and lofted Ashwin inside-out over cover for six. It was a shot that the 25-year-old has perfected over the years playing limited overs cricket, and has all but made it his own.

The second Rahane special came in the 17th over with the Royals at a comfortable 130 for four. Rahane had crossed his half-century — his third in the tournament — and was looking good for a big one. Pacer Mohit Sharma spotted Rahane going for a pre-meditated sweep and bowled a slower one on middle, but the Mumbai batsman was too good for him as he slickly improvised and managed to sweep-flick it wide of short fine-leg for four.

Rahane went on to make 70 off 56 balls, helping Rajasthan to a total of 159 which turned out to be more than enough for them to defend and barge into the summit clash. He had played an integral part in maintaining Rajasthan’s unbeaten run in the tournament, now spanning five matches, with a swashbuckling unbeaten 62 off 53 balls against the Perth Scorchers and a plucky 48-ball 52 against the Otago Volts. He thus carried forward his great form for the Royals after a successful Indian Premier League (IPL) earlier this year, where he scored 488 runs in 18 games including four half-centuries that helped the Royals reach the last four.

So, it does seem like a shame that Rahane missed the cut for the Indian squad for the upcoming home series against Australia. But then, that has been the story of Rahane’s career, hasn’t it?

At 25 years of age, with a First-Class average of over 60 — which features in the all-time top 10 in the world — built over 105 innings and five seasons, including 19 hundreds and 22 half centuries, it’s a shame that Rahane has played just one Test match and 17 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). A perennial bench warmer and drinks carrier ever since he was first picked in the India squad for the Test series against the West Indies in 2011, Rahane has seen many a compatriot barge through the doors of the national team, while he has been asked to wait outside. In fact, as many as seven players — Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, R Vinay Kumar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan — have debuted for India between then and the Delhi Test against Australia in March 2013 when Rahane finally got his chance.

Since then, two stalwarts of the middle-order — Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman — have retired, while two openers — Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir — have been sacked. Unfortunately, Rahane, who prides himself in being a versatile batsman who can play at any position, still continues to be overlooked. His Test debut was realised only after Shikhar Dhawan injured himself and was ruled out of the last match, and as fate would have it, Rahane could manage just eight runs over two innings batting at No 5.

Considering his one-day career, inspite of a solid IPL 2012, where he plundered 560 runs, Rahane played just the one ODI in the calendar year — the fifth game of a five-match series that India had already won going into the match; unfortunately, he could score just nine runs. In January 2013, he was again given a chance to play in the third and final ODI against Pakistan at home, where he flopped yet again and could not get into double figures. He was extended a longer rope in the ODIs against England that followed: he scored 47 at Rajkot to show some promise, before again failing to cross double digits at Kochi and Ranchi; he was dropped again.

As was his fate, Rahane was not picked in India’s Champions Trophy squad, which the team went on to win. Neither did he play in the tri-series in the Caribbean that followed, featuring Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Finally, picked in the second string squad that toured Zimbabwe for a limited overs series, Rahane got a chance in the fifth and final ODI after the Indian team had long clinched the series, and scored a half-century.

It wasn’t to be enough, as Rahane’s name was again brushed away by the selectors while picking the squad for the important limited-overs series against Australia at home.

And so, Rahane will continue to plunder runs in the domestic circuit and T20 cricket, while an almost inexplicable big-stage fright continues to overwhelm him in the international arena. Perhaps one can argue that he hasn’t quite been given as long a rope to prove his worth as, say, Rohit Sharma. Still on the right side of 30 for a few more years, Rahane has enough time on his side to push for an India spot.

Rahane could still play against Australia, since the squad announced is limited to just the first two ODIs. His CLT20 show must surely have grabbed the attention of the selectors. But he will somehow have to get rid of his international blues if he wants to cement his spot in the Indian team. Or else, rather unfortunately, he will be added to the heap of talented Indian players who could not make the cut in international cricket.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)