Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane is 23 and has represented Mumbai at every age level. Recently, he even made the crossover to the Indian team and all those who saw him smash six consecutive fours off S Aravind for Rajasthan Royals against Royal Challengers Bangalore last night were left believing that he belongs to the international arena.
He certainly has the talent. But then with Rahane, that has never been the question.
At every level and age group he played in, his ability to play ‘the shots’ made him stand out. The backfoot punch, that batsmen from Mumbai play so well, became part of his repertoire early and in just his second Ranji season he scored 1089 runs to guide Mumbai to the title.
However, early in his career, he was dismissed as a talent fit only to make the odd quick fifty. The one failing that was quickly becoming apparent to all was his inability to keep the ball down. He would often get caught at point. He would look solid but then give it away in a moment of weakness.
But yesterday, he looked like a player who wanted more of the limelight. While Virat Kohli would have let the whole world know about his century, Rahane is generally one who lets the bat do the talking.
But unlike Kohli, who is also 23, the stocky Rahane is still looking for one breakout innings in international cricket that will give him enough impetus to garner a place in the Indian team for a while. And he must not be allowed to believe that this IPL knock was that innings.
Success in the IPL is fickle and after a certain point, it means nothing. Rahane only needs to look at his partner Owais Shah for affirmation of that fact. Owais played 71 ODIs for England and ended up with an average of 30.56 — he just wasn’t consistent enough for international cricket. But yesterday, he looked like the world's best T20 player and looked very good in the Big Bash League too.
The other things one must look at are the bowling figures of Bangalore bowlers. Zaheer Khan bowled 4 overs, 1 maiden (which Rahane played out), gave away 15 runs and took one wicket. Daniel Vettori, amidst all the carnage, returned with figures of 4-0-20-1. Muralitharan managed 4-0-35-0, which by T20 standards in average.
All top quality bowlers who pretty much came out of this unscathed. You have to give Rahane credit for choosing to target the weaker links in the bowling attack. Aravind was clobbered for 48 in his three overs. Vinay Kumar was smashed for 51 in his quota and Chris Gayle, groin injury and all, conceded 21 in his one over. But in international cricket, weak links are harder to find.
He basically chose to hammer the hell out of the Ranji-quality bowlers. And in Ranji, Rahane is king. He averages 68.47 after 50 first-class matches. The knock proved that he has enough smarts to know who to pick a fight with. Beyond that, it didn’t give us much.
We’ve seen enough talents disappear to believe that the IPL is the Holy Grail. Truth is, it's closer to glorified Ranji cricket. Rahane only has to look at his own team to see that success in the IPL has a fickle quality to it. A few seasons back, Swapnil Asnodkar was the toast of a nation. Shane Warne called him the Goa Cannon but now the guns have fallen silent.
T Suman, Manpreet Gony, Siddharth Trivedi, Kamran Khan, Paul Valthaty and others have found the going outside the hyped confines of the IPL quite difficult to handle. And that is why Rahane should use the IPL and not let the IPL use him. He must use this tournament to generate hype, to garner the attention of the selectors and then make the most of the chances he gets for India. The IPL is but a step in the ladder that will get him to a regular spot in the Indian team.
But that reality can wait. For now, though, we can close our eyes and watch him hit those six and fours over and over again. It’s a moment he won’t forget in a hurry and neither will we.