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The Curious Case of Ajinkya Rahane

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Last updated on 08 Apr 2023 | 09:38 PM
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The Curious Case of Ajinkya Rahane

His Wankhede onslaught was the second-fastest fifty for CSK in all IPL, and the fastest so far this season

Sport is funny. We can prepare for the most extreme of things, but it manages to spring a surprise we ordinarily can’t foresee. 

Not a lot of us saw it coming when MS Dhoni mentioned Ajinkya Rahane’s inclusion in the XI. But, this ‘El Clasico’ was a strange ride in many ways.

In the last three seasons, Rahane averaged 15.9 and had a strike rate of 104.5. He had just the solitary fifty, and not struck above 140 even once. The numbers in the first 10 balls dipped to 15.8 and 80.7, showing how much of a slow starter he had been.

These are exactly the kind of batters teams would look to avoid at the auction, which is why Chennai Super Kings became the butt of all jokes when they bought Rahane at the 2023 auction. People likened it to the Cheteshwar Pujara buy in 2021, when CSK apparently bought the Indian Test #3 as a “mark of respect”.

Ajinkya Rahane walked in four balls into the chase, as Jason Behrendorff scalped the ever-dependable Devon Conway

Mumbai Indians would have been overjoyed to see the Kiwi’s back. More often than not, Rahane coming in meant one of two things; he either got out early or came up with one of those typically slow starts we’ve come to expect of him.

Him getting out early would’ve helped the home team to apply some scoreboard pressure on the visitors. A slow start would’ve forced the rest of the batters to go harder. Both ways, MI stood a chance to win. This was probably their best shot at securing that elusive first win. 

Instead, everyone at Wankhede witnessed a show they did not sign up for. He went after bowlers like never before and, importantly, yielded good results.

He attacked all parts of the boundary with equal measure. He cut, drove, hooked, pulled, and did all of this and much more with great ease. 

His knock included 10 boundaries, five of which came in a single over. Arshad Khan was the unfortunate recipient of the five-boundary-over. Rahane started off by flicking the first ball down the fine-leg fence for a six.

Having already put the rookie under pressure, the Mumbaiker anticipated what was coming next. It was a short and wide delivery, and Rahane cut it past the point fielder for a four. 

He then deftly played one past short third man for four, and followed it up with another boundary past the cover fielder. He capped the boundary streak with a straight drive that would have made Sachin Tendulkar, the MI mentor, proud.

If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, his half-century was the second-fastest fifty for CSK in all IPL, and the fastest so far this season.  

Every bowler he went after could have potentially dismissed him. Behrendorff and Arshad have the ability to move the ball, Cameron Green can clock in excess of 140, and Piyush Chawla can turn it away from him. Even if we account for MI’s inexperienced attack, which was further depleted by Jofra Archer's absence, an assault of this sort wasn’t on the cards. 

In the bowlers’ defense, they did bowl the right lengths. There was nothing pitched up, and everything was pulled back to exploit Rahane’s general weakness against shorter lengths. But, Rahane was having none of that. He was up to the task and ensured he came out on top each time.

And what is it with CSK and players making a comeback? 

Shane Watson scored 250 runs at an average of 13.1 and a strike rate of 117.9 in the two seasons before joining CSK. He revived his form in the 2018 season, with monster returns of 555 runs at 39.6 and 154.6.

The same was the case with Robin Uthappa. His returns had dwindled in the past two seasons, having scored 478 runs at 22.7 and 118.9, before being traded to CSK in 2021. He came up with several match-winning contributions to help them clinch the title that year.

In all fairness, fans weren’t the only ones to be surprised by this. Rahane himself was probably a bit taken aback. There’s no other explanation to why he would say he had a “good domestic season” when he struck at 123 and averaged 17 in the recent SMAT. Also, in Test cricket, which is supposedly his best format, the Indian team had moved on from him.

"Me and Jinks spoke at the start of the season and I told him to play to his strengths, use your ability to manipulate the fields. I told him to go and enjoy, don't take stress and we'll back you," Dhoni said on Rahane at the post-match ceremony. 

Going back to his numbers in the last three seasons, there are several reasons to believe that he's comfortable facing spin over pace. While facing spin: 

- His strike rate goes up by 13%

- He plays 40% fewer dots

- He times the ball 30% better

- He defends 60% lesser

CSK are scheduled to play at least seven more games on spin-friendly surfaces (six in Chennai and one in Lucknow). Add the fact that most surfaces will tend to get slower as the tournament progresses, tonight’s innings could potentially be Rahane’s resurrection to form, and not the flash-in-the-pan innings that most of us are making it out to be.

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