His score on 34, Ajinkya Rahane stepped out of his crease to Ashley Nurse and nearly holed out to Evin Lewis at long-on. It was neither a chip nor a full-blooded punch but more like a weak bunt. It was neither designed to be aerial and fall short enough of long-on for there to be a chance of an extra run nor was it hit with enough force to clear the fielder. If anything, the only probable outcome was the ball landing comfortably in Lewis’ hands. Thankfully for Rahane, he escaped and could afford to shake his head at the non-striker’s end rather than on his way back to the dressing room.
In cricketing parlance, it was a nothing shot. But Rahane had reached that point in his innings. That point when he customarily loses the plot. To the extent that it has become a kind of shot that is expected from Rahane in ODI cricket, especially once he’s done the difficult part of getting his eye in and laying a foundation for himself. He’d done it only two days earlier. After having batted half the quota of his team’s overs and taken himself steadily to 62 off 78, he’d played a nothing shot. It was an attempted scoop that was again designed to do not much except fall nicely into mid-on’s hands, which it did on that occasion. And here he was on Sunday, doing the same.
Eventually, Rahane did recover and helped by some rather generous West Indian bowling which went from bad to abominable as the Indian innings progressed, the opener ended up scoring the third century of his 75-match ODI career that stretches back six years now.
Rahane’s innings, the false shot against Nurse aside, did witness a number of attractive strokes. There were a number of typically fluent drives to the assortment of half-volleys from the West Indian pacers, and a pulled six in there too. He also manipulated the field excellently against Devendra Bishoo by going inside-out on occasions and sweeping against the turn on others. And on a day where early morning rain seemed to have ruined any chance of play despite the Queen’s Park Oval having found its voice, people and the irrepressible sounds of chutney music, Rahane brought up his century with a delectable and crunchy cover-drive off Miguel Cummins.
But what does this century do to his ODI career? Some might actually consider Rahane a tad fortunate to be here in the first place, considering that even his 103 here only bumped up his overall average to 33.83. He sat out the entire Champions Trophy as the reserve opener behind Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Here, he is keeping out Rishabh Pant, who could easily fit in as the kind of explosive opener that India haven’t had for a few years now. And there had been hints from those close to the selection committee that the twin tours of England and the Caribbean could well be a make-or-break for the Mumbai batsman as far as his ODI career is concerned.
At 29, he’s at that tricky age where losing his spot now could push him back considerably in the pecking order and make playing catch-up that much more difficult. And it was important that the brief brain-fade against Nurse on Sunday didn’t result in a soft dismissal, not just in terms of this innings but his future in the 50-over format.
Static strike rate
This inability to go big with his score despite being consistent in spending time at the crease has, after all, been one of the chief reasons that has kept him on the edge of the ODI team, especially since Rohit started opening the innings in 2013. In 73 innings so far, Rahane has got out nearly 30 per cent of the times between the score of 20 and 50. Rohit, on the other hand, since that Champions Trophy in 2013 when he was promoted in the order, has been dismissed in that got-his-eye-in stage only 12 times, or 16 per cent of the time, in the same number of innings. Dhawan wastes his starts only 23 per cent of the time, for the record.
What also goes against Rahane is the lack of destructive power that Rohit and Dhawan possess. If anything, Rohit’s strike rates till the time he goes past 60 are considerably slower than Rahane’s but he makes up for it by cutting loose towards the end. Rahane, in contrast, struggles to hit the right gears at the right time, and often presses the pedal when he doesn’t need to. It, perhaps, is a result of being aware of his inability to literally double his strike rate in the latter half of his innings like the two openers he’s competing with. Ironically, few Indian batsmen in the last 10 years pace their innings better than Rahane in Test cricket, and that holds true across all conditions and opposition.
That’s what he got right here though. His strike rate didn’t drop below 90 at any stage of his knock, and he did so without trying anything unnatural, till the time he had gone past the three-figure mark—when he swung across the line and was bowled by Cummins. But by then he had done enough to remind the selectors why they’ve continued to persist with him.