Ajinkya Rahane is one of the most dependable batsmen in the longer version of the game that India have at the moment. He has performed well for India in South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand, almost in all conditions in Test cricket.

Timing has always been Ajinkya Rahane’s hallmark. Yet somewhere, Rahane – the batsman, has lost his way in the shorter versions of the game for India, having lost his place in the country’s Twenty20 International squad for the upcoming series against England. It may not look startling but for someone who has a great record in the Indian Premier League, it is a big call. The way in which he has performed in ODI cricket in last year or so and the rise of few other players in Indian cricket may push Rahane to lift his game and that is the only way for him now to stay in the team.

Ajinkya Rahane has batted for India mostly as either an opener or at No.4. While it can be argued that an opener may not be as successful at No. 4, Rahane has batted for Mumbai in List A cricket in the middle-order and at the same time, opens the batting in the IPL for his respective team most of the time.

This does point to his versatility, but there is a thin line between versatility and success and Ajinkya Rahane has not been blessed with the latter in the limited-overs format so far.

A poor 2016

The Mumbai batsman did not have a momentous start to his One-Day International career, but in 2014 and 2015, he made more than 700 runs with a decent average and strike rate. But over the last year or so, Rahane has been tussling for form. He has not converted a single fifty into a century since almost last two years and last made a century for India in ODIs against Sri Lanka at Cuttack in 2014.

Since then he has notched up nine fifties and his highest score after that century is 89 which he made against Australia at Brisbane last year. When an Indian player performs well in Test cricket, there is an automatic assumption that the player concerned is above average.

However, for a country that has been blessed with many young talented batsmen, there is something wrong about a proper batsman who has played for the national team regularly for the last three years in over 70 matches and currently has a career average below 35. There is absolutely no question about the fact that Rahane is a talented batsman but an overall strike rate of less than 80 makes the debate more interesting.

Ajinkya Rahane walks back to the pavilion after being dismissed in the series against New Zealand. Image credit: Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Ajinkya Rahane walks back to the pavilion after being dismissed in the series against New Zealand. Image credit: Manjunath Kiran / AFP

An average of below 35 just isn’t good enough

Cricket has become fast-paced and scores of 350s and 400s have been achieved by teams regularly in ODI cricket. Therefore, a player like Rahane has to accrue either his average or strike rate in the future if he wants to play for India in the long-term, considering the fact that players like Rishabh Pant and Karun Nair are already waiting for their opportunities in the ODI format.

Additionally, Yuvraj Singh’s inclusion in the team at the age of 35 is certainly not a good indication for Rahane. Since the Mumbai batsman’s ODI debut, all India batsmen who have played a minimum of 30 innings average higher than him.

Ajinkya Rahane’s contribution (proportion of runs) in matches won by India since his ODI debut is the lowest among all Indian proper batsmen who have played at least 25 innings. His strike rate is also the lowest among all Indian proper batsmen during the above mentioned period who have scored at least 800 runs. Virat Kohli’s contribution during the above mentioned period is the highest among all Indian batsmen.

The winning knock

Ajinkya Rahane has batted 42 innings while opening the batting for India in ODIs and 20 innings at No.4, therefore both the positions gave him maximum chance to pace his innings. However, his 40.44 balls per innings since his ODI debut which is the second lowest among all Indian batsmen who have faced minimum 1500 balls since Rahane’s ODI debut.

With KL Rahul, Manish Pandey and Yuvraj Singh already in the ODI team against England, it will be intriguing to see where Virat Kohli fits Ajinkya Rahane. As MS Dhoni now will play as a wicket-keeper batsman in the team, there is the possibility that Dhoni will play either at No.4 or No.5. Virat Kohli also said, “I would love to see him (MS Dhoni) bat higher up usually than what he has been playing for the last few years and totally enjoy his cricket.”

India would not like to tinker with the Shikhar Dhawan-Rohit Sharma combination at the top of the order for the Champions Trophy later in the year. Moreover, if Yuvraj Singh plays well in the middle-order, than there will not be any place for Ajinkya Rahane in the team as the No.6 place will be taken up by either Kedar Jadhav or Manish Pandey.

Out of the top five, the top three positions have been secured with Rohit Sharma at the top, Virat Kohli at No.3 and MS Dhoni at either No.4 or No.5. KL Rahul will also try to secure his place as the third opener in the team by performing well in the upcoming ODI series against England. Hence if Ajinkya Rahane gets a chance against England, then it is a do or die situation for him surely.

This is good for Indian cricket as there are more than two contenders for a single spot, but for the Indian Test vice-captain, he has to write his own story otherwise he may find hard to return to the power-packed Indian ODI side again like Cheteshwar Pujara. The next few days will be a stern test of Ajinkya Rahane’s character and will decide his future in India’s One Day Internationals team.

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