IPL: Ajinkya Rahane's 98 annihilates Kings XI Punjab

Punjab had no answer to Ajinkya Rahane’s elegance. This feature of his batting made him stand out from the rest © PTI

On April 6, 2012 Ajinkya Rahane started Rajasthan Royals’ season with a dazzling 98 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur, against Kings XI Punjab. Before the tournament, his captain Rahul Dravid had predicted Rahane would be one of the stars of IPL 2012. Sarang Bhalerao revisits Rahane’s rapturous knock.

Rahul Dravid mentioned at the toss that Ashok Menaria, Kevon Cooper, Ajinkya Rahane and Ankit Chavan will be the men to watch out for. Royals’ modus operandi has always been to put the lesser-known cricketers at the helm. Quite a few unknown names have performed on the grand stage, thanks to the backing of their erstwhile captain Shane Warne. Rahane, a promising talent, had represented the country in Twenty20 and One-Day International formats. The team management expected a lot from him.

In their season opener against Punjab, Rahane walked out with his idol Dravid. Rahane took the role of the aggressor, smashing James Faulkner over mid-on for a boundary. He then stood tall and executed a backfoot punch that pierced the off-side field for another boundary. It was heartening to see Rahane’s confidence batting alongside Dravid.

In the next over, Rahane took Indian medium-pacer Praveen Kumar to the cleaners. The Rajasthan opener hammered Praveen through the covers, then effortlessly flicked and glanced one off his pads, which would have made the inventor of leg-glance [Ranjitsinhji] proud. He finished the over with a rasping straight drive. The four boundaries — each better than the previous one — saw Rajasthan’s score was 31 at the end of three overs. Dravid was batting on four and Rahane was on 26.

Adam Gilchrist introduced spin in the fifth over, seeing the ease with the Rajasthan duo was easily handling his faster men who were leaking runs. Piyush Chawla was hit inside-out for a four and things looked ominous for Punjab. Powerplay overs yielded 57 runs. Gilchrist brought his slow bowlers into the attack. Harmeet Singh, who has copious variations, was bowling the eighth over. He beat Rahane completely and the young opener admonished himself. Dravid walked up to the young man and probably asked him to keep his cool.

Dravid was dismissed in the 10th over, but that did not affect Rahane one bit. He brought about his fifty with a scoop over bowler Chawla’s head for a boundary. It was an effortless hit and a shot rarely played by international batsmen.

Menaria was then dismissed for a duck. Brad Hodge came in at No 4 and took his time getting his eye in. Rahane, on the other hand, was shaping up for an assault on the Punjab attack. At the end of 13 overs, Royals were 102 for the loss of two wickets. Paul Valthaty came in to bowl the 14th over of the innings.

Hodge hit him for a boundary. Rahane finished the over with a straight six, bringing his timing into the equation, before adroitly placing Valthaty’s Yorker-length delivery past two point fielders for a four. Sixteen runs off the 14th over, and the Royals were having a move-on. Rahane was batting on 70 off 49.

In the following over, Bipul Sharma was intimidated by Rahane, He fired a ball on the leg-stump which ‘keeper Gilchrist failed to collect resulting in five wides. In the 16th over, Rahane smashed Bipul Sharma twice over the cover for boundaries.

Rahane then had Chawla at his wits’ end. He smashed the leg-spinner over mid-wicket, then straight over his head and then swept him — all for boundaries. Rahane was on 95 at the end of 17 overs and a hundred was there for the taking. But he got to face only three deliveries in the next two overs in which he scored two runs.

In the final over Rahane scored a single off the first ball and got back on strike on the third delivery. He then played a wild shot and was castled by Faulkner’s slower delivery. It was a real shame Rahane missed his century.

Kevon Cooper then smashed Faulkner for a six and a four. Rajasthan scored 191 off their 20 overs. Cooper came back and picked up four wickets as well and Rajasthan sealed a comprehensive 31-run win — thanks to youngsters Rahane and Cooper.

Punjab had no answer to Rahane’s elegance. This feature of his batting made him stand out from the rest. The wonderful gift of timing, temperament and the skill to construct big innings in the T20 format without playing “slam-bang” version made Rahane’s innings special. He had announced his arrival in IPL.

Brief scores: Rajasthan Royals 191 for 4 (Ajinkya Rahane 98) beat Kings XI Punjab 160 for 9 (Mandeep Singh 34; Kevon Cooper 4 for 26) by 31 runs

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter @bhaleraosarang)