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India vs England: Ajinkya Rahane's omission from T20Is unexpected, but not surprising

The biggest talking point about Ajinkya Rahane being dropped from the Indian T20I team, was the fact that no one was talking about it.

Understandably so. There were much more juicy, if less interesting, developments brewing. Indian cricket had changed more in the last week than in the last two years. The BCCI’s posturing was exposed as only that, posturing. The president and secretary had been asked (read told) by the country’s highest court to step down. And MS Dhoni had given up limited overs captaincy, closing both a chapter which saw India reach multiple summits, and a conversation about whether the captain in waiting should be kept waiting.

Ajinkya Rahane in the series against New Zealand. AFP

Ajinkya Rahane in the series against New Zealand. AFP

Then there was the hullabuloo over Rishab Pant’s elevation into the T20I team, about his first class triple hundred, and his strike rate that would look more at home in a Formula One race, rather than a first class cricket match.

Don’t forget the joy that die-hard Yuvraj Singh fans were expressing, about how it’s never over with him. And the despair that die-hard Yuvraj Singh detractors were expressing, about how it’s never over with him.

After all this, only a minority on Twitter noticed that Rahane, the Indian Test vice-captain, was omitted from the T20I side. Even fewer said something about it.

As far as T20Is go, Rahane went from the team in the same manner he plays all his cricket: wordlessly, letting the runs, or in this case the facts, do the talking. Except, there was very little talking, because even the most loyal Rahane fans would admit that while his omission was unexpected, it was not surprising either.

Unexpected, because Rahane had a a fruitful series against New Zealand, before a lean one against England. Not surprising because whispers of how he wasn’t the right player for India in T20Is had been steadily rising since the World T20 and the IPL.

There has been some chat of how Pant’s faster scoring ability was preferred over Rahane’s purist pleasing batting. It would make a well-worn-yet best-selling narrative: senior Test pro replaced by sizzling new kid on the block. But most conveniently forget that Pant is in the team as a second wicketkeeper, and will in all likelihood play understudy to Dhoni, and nothing more. The men who have actually replaced Rahane are Mandeep Singh and KL Rahul.

Rahane made a return to the T20I side as an replacement for opener Shikhar Dhawan in the World T20, in the all important semifinal against the West Indies. Tired of waiting for Dhawan’s game-changing potential to show up, the team management went with someone more dependable, consistent and almost predictable; the constant in a format given to randomness. Rahane offered all the things that Dhawan did not, besides being the better fielder. He performed that role to perfection in the one match that he played, scored 40 off 35 balls. He helped ensure that only four Indian batters needed to bat, and India amassed 192 against the West Indies, which turned out to be chaseable.

He continued to play that role throughout the IPL, finishing seventh on the list of top run getters, at a strike rate of 126, which was still grilled as too slow.

First class thoroughbred plus consistent IPL performer equals Indian cricket selection, more often than not, and Rahane should have retained his place at the top of the order in this team, especially in the absence of the injured Rohit Sharma. Yet, with the luxury of hindsight, the signs that he would not were there.

First, it was in the very game that he made a comeback into the team. The West Indies, in the approach they employed so successfully in their victorious World T20 campaign, showed that male T20I cricket is a game of hitters, not batters. Look at the West Indies line up, and you could see the selection policy that underlined their team is not built on dependability, but combust-ability. They picked players who may last just 15 balls, but hit three or four sixes while they’re there. The Windies had given the world a new formula to batting in T20s, where wickets are less of a premium, one that teams around the world are studying and copying.

Second it was in Virat Kohli’s vision and personality as captain. It should have been apparent to us when Cheteshwar Pujara, the archetypal Test batter, was dropped from the XI against the West Indies. The message was loud and clear. Score aggressively or make way, even in Test cricket.

A combination of both these factors may have led the Indian selectors and Kohli to opt for the pair of that opened the batting in Zimbabwe – Rahul and Mandeep. Mandeep impressed on debut against Zimbabwe, while Rahul did even better in the West Indies, smashing a hundred from number four. With Yuvraj and Suresh Raina being preferred in the middle order, Rahane’s two low scores against the West Indies have cost him.

I am a big admirer of how Ajinkya Rahane goes about his cricket. More monk-like in his off-field manner than Murali Vijay, more attacking in his batting than his facial expression shows on. Kohli may be the heir to Sachin Tendulkar’s records, but Rahane is the heir to his off-field demeanor. Poker faced without any trace of deception, and on the field, a silent, often smiling warrior. As his collection of away hundreds show, his reticence cannot be mistaken for diffidence. Rahane’s fighting spirit is perhaps best attested to by the fact that he is vice captain to the most aggressive captain Indian Test cricket has ever seen.

This same fighting spirit is why I am confident that Rahane will use this challenge to reinvent his game and come back with runs, just as he did in the IPL, when everyone said he couldn’t crack T20. Imagine if the thoroughbred race horse could be taught show jumping as well. Wouldn’t that be a package worth picking?

The writer is a former international cricketer and now a freelance journalist, she tweets at @SnehalPradhan.

Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 09:54 AM

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