India vs Australia: Why excluding Ajinkya Rahane from T20I squad is the right move for hosts

By Prasenjit Dey

Ajinkya Rahane is one of the most technically-sound batsmen in the world at present. He has been in spectacular form in ODI cricket of late, having registered four consecutive fifty-plus scores opening the innings. However, that has helped him the least in finding a place for himself in the T20I squad for the upcoming three-match series against Australia. The selectors’ decision to keep a man in form like Rahane out of the T20I squad has drawn criticism almost from all quarters. Yet, their decision to exclude Rahane from the shortest version of the game is right in many aspects than being wrong.

It really is a treat to watch Rahane bat. The class that he oozes while he bats, the audacity with which he plays those splendid drives down the ground, the grace and charm of his wrist work and the perfect balance with which he brings his foot-work into play is totally unmatched. That is what makes him India’s highly coveted asset in Test cricket and an equally sought-after player in ODIs, if not more. However, things are not the same for him in case of the T20I format, which demands more muscle power from batsmen than proper technique.

Ajinkya Rahane said he harboured no ill-feelings after being left out of the T20Is against Australia. AP

Rahane has always been a player who needs time to settle down at the crease. While a batsman gets enough time to settle down in Tests and ODIs, the T20 format is a different ball game altogether. It demands batsmen to go for big shots from the word 'go', and it gives them no time to settle down or get their eye in. The 29-year old Mumbai batsman does not belong to the category of players who can literally go after the bowling right from the first delivery. Rather, he is someone who likes to see off a few deliveries and accelerate in the later part of the innings.

It is exactly this kind of playing style that does not make him a proper fit for the middle order in T20Is. The opening slot seems to be the only viable option to play him in. However, that would also mean consuming a huge amount of deliveries during the first six overs of fielding restrictions without as many runs in return as compared to what other batsmen are capable of scoring.

He boasts a strike rate of only 113.29 in 20 T20I games for India. That roughly amounts to 68 runs if a batsman consumes half of the full quota of 20 overs after opening the innings. Things are pretty much the same when we consider his overall T20 record that includes the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well. He has a mammoth tally of 4,167 runs in 161 matches at a healthy average of 30.41, but, those runs have come at an overall strike rate of 118.54, which is pretty much similar to that of his international record. That doesn’t help a team in anyway, and puts unnecessary pressure on the other batsmen. The whole role of a sheet anchor has now become totally irrelevant in T20 cricket.

The fact that he fails to convert his starts into big scores more often than not, tilts the scales of balance against him. Even in the ODI series against Australia, he failed to convert four consecutive fifties into triple figure scores. So, if he departs scoring a run-a-ball 30 after opening the innings for his team in T20s, they have to consider it 30 deliveries wasted. A strike rate of at least 140 is the standard for an opener in modern-day T20 cricket and Rahane is nowhere near that mark.

Moreover, with first choice openers like Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma being fully fit and in their prime forms, it becomes harder for Rahane to make his case for the opening slot. Reserve opening option in KL Rahul who is capable of scoring quick runs nullifies Rahane’s case even further. And with another potential opening option in Virat Kohli, things look pretty much sorted out for the Indian top order in T20Is, leaving Rahane with no chance whatsoever.

It wouldn’t also be wise to say that Rahane is a complete misfit as far as the shortest format is concerned. In fact, the thing is that he does not fit into the scheme of things in this format as well as his contemporaries do. The vast pool of talented batsmen that India have at present, has made the competition tougher and only the best of the lot are fortunate enough to become a regular in the T20I squad. Even Rahane admits this fact and he has no regrets that he didn’t get selected for the T20I squad. He has full faith in the selectors and relishes the competition in the Indian ranks at the moment.

"Yes, so much cricket we play, the team management, selectors take a decision and we respect it. Speaking about the competition, it is necessary and it helps you to give your best performance. Whoever gets a chance does well for the team. I have always enjoyed the competition," Rahane told reporters on his exclusion from T20Is.

With all these factors in consideration, the selectors’ decision to leave Rahane out of the T20I squad seems to be the right move. Even though he won’t be in the frame of things in T20Is, probably, in the future as well, he will definitely continue to mesmerise us with his infectious charm and elegance in the longer versions of the game. Those formats completely belong to him and there is hardly any batsman who has the ability to take that position away from him.