IPL 2023: Rahane sizzles, on his own terms, at the Wankhede

The veteran shows there is room for class and timing in the slambang world of T20s as well

IPL 2023: Rahane sizzles, on his own terms, at the Wankhede

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Does Ajinkya Rahane, now 34, still nurse a hope of playing for India in any format? We will never know but the reticent man, who hasn’t played any international cricket for close to 15 months now, showed class never goes out of fashion as he chiselled out the fastest 50 of IPL 2023 so far to see his new franchise Chennai Super Kings tame Mumbai Indians at their fortress on Saturday night.

"I have always loved Ajinkya Rahane’s batting. He’s star quality,’’ gushed Kevin Pietersen on Twitter as ‘Jinks’ enthralled a full house at his backyard Wankhede Stadium – albeit in the wrong shirt. It was vintage Rahane – all grace and timing instead of the muscled hoiks that one is used to seeing in this format as he set the tempo by smashing young left-arm pacer Arshad Khan for 23 runs in one over.

The assault included a wide array of strokes – picking up the length early for the pull, backfoot punches on the offside and the trademark straight drive. It’s not everyday that one sees him reaching a 50 in only 19 balls – the second quickest half-century by a CSK batsman in IPL history with Suresh Raina having one in 16 balls. Not a bad effort from someone who was playing his first T20 game in nearly five months, not to speak of the fact that he barely played in nine IPL matches over the last two seasons.

Ironically though, he would have been sitting in a reserve player’s bib but for the unavailability of both Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes due to injuries. In fact, much as a decorated player Rahane have been in the of IPL (CSK is his sixth franchise after MI, Rajasthan Royals, Rising Pune Supergiant, Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders), Rahane would have gone unsold this season if the Chennai management had not added him to the roster for a base price of Rs 50 lakhs.

 A former captain with the Royals who had modelled his game a lot on Rahul Dravid, then a mentor with that franchise, Rahane has had to live with the tag of a Test specialist for a better part of his career. Nothing wrong with it, but neither he in the Cheteshwar Pujara mould and one cannot help but feel that the doors of white ball international cricket, at least in the 50-overs format, had been shut on him little too prematurely.

Interesting enough, Rahane had always maintained that he fashioned himself playing in all formats at the international level, but a run-drought in Tests over the 2021-22 season and so-called need for a makeover gradually saw him and Pujara being eased out of the equation early last year. While Pujara still got a chance to claw back into the Test squad and is now a certainty for the World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia in June, Rahane has been left in the cold.

Difficult to imagine that only two years back, the same Rahane was accorded a heroe’s welcome when he returned after standing in for Virat Kohli and leading the country to that memorable series win Down Under.  For now, the seasoned batter has to wait to get his next game in the yellow shirt – and keep ‘enjoying’ this phase – as the cliché goes.

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