The first One-Day International (ODI) between West Indies and India didn’t conclude any result as incessant rains played the spoilsport at Port of Spain on Friday. It was the 40th over of the Indian innings when rains interfered and a further play was not possible. India were all set to unleash a barrage of big strokes as the platform for a big score was laid but it wasn’t to be. India were placed at 199 for the loss of three wickets in 39.1 overs when Port of Spain started witnessing heavy showers with Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni at the crease.
Ajinkya Rahane, who didn’t manage to grab a single game in the recently concluded ICC Champions Trophy, was now given an opportunity at the top. Rahane played a good hand and garnered 62 runs to get a good start but failed to accelerate after building a steady innings. He confronted 78 deliveries for his 62 at a strike-rate of 79.48 but was dismissed when he was all set to make up for the dot deliveries. Rahane’s talent in Test format is unquestionable but has to alter his game when it comes to ODI cricket. His batting is based on the sound technique of timing and placement, he hardly mishits the ball. Rahane hardly plays an unorthodox stroke and plays textbook cricket irrespective of the format.
Cricket has evolved over the years and with the emergence of Twenty20 (T20) cricket, the average score in shorter formats have seen a drastic increase. In ODIs, a score of 300 has become a norm and with king-sized bats and shorter boundaries coming into play, run-scoring has also become a bit easier. Also, the use of two new balls and field restrictions have assisted the batsmen in scoring runs. The traditional approach to ODI cricket has undergone various changes and now demands attacking cricket, especially at the top and in death overs. Conventionally, opening batting was more about bidding time against the new and gradually building an innings, which is not the scenario anymore.
India’s most consistent Test batsman on foreign soil – Ajinkya Rahane has been mesmerising to watch in whites. The longest format suits him more, as he is a batsman who likes to spend time at the crease and get his eyes in. But the current standard of ODI cricket demands more aggression, especially at the top. The powerplay overs have become more crucial, openers like David Warner, Quinton de Kock, Alex Hales and even Fakhar Zaman for that matter have a knack of scoring quick runs at the top.
Rahane’s career in ODI cricket has oscillated between top-order and middle-order. For his inconsistency, he has not managed to cement his spot in the ODI side. In 74 ODI games in his career so far, Ajinkya Rahane has batted in the top-order (1 to 3) on 49 occasions and opened the batting in 44 games. The difference in Rahane’s batting average at any position is negligible. Rahane batted in the middle-order for most of the time in last two years but a mistimed injury to Shikhar Dhawan in the ODI series against New Zealand compelled him to open the batting. He didn’t have a great run at the top with his only highest score being 57 off 70 deliveries.
With Rohit Sharma being rested for the West Indies tour, Rahane was once again trusted with the opener’s spot. Rahane’s massive problem occurs when it comes to rotation of strike. He finds it difficult to sneak those singles in the powerplay overs, which hampers the strike-rate massively. Rotating the strike puts the bowler under pressure and keeps the scoreboard under check. Rahane endures too many dot deliveries, for instance, in his 62 runs knock against West Indies, he endured 41 dot deliveries. He faced 78 deliveries in all, scoring eight boundaries at a strike-rate of 79.48. His dot ball percentage was 52.56, which is a bit too high in an ODI game.
Rahane’s strike-rate would have been better had he converted half of those dot deliveries into singles. Though there is no denying the fact that Rahane might have given his best and may have faced some good deliveries. But, in comparison, Shikhar Dhawan faced just 39 dot balls for his 87 off 92 deliveries. The dot ball percentage for Shikhar Dhawan’s innings was just 42.39 deliveries, which is also the reason why he garnered runs at a strike-rate of 94.56.
Rahane’s approach in the innings was a bit defensive. India managed to get 47 runs in first 10 overs, which is not the scenario with most of the top ODI sides. He struck eight elegant boundaries, which was pleasing to the eye. Rahane can produce some utter brilliance and score runs off good deliveries but the lack of strike rotation has affected his run. In his career spanning over 74 ODIs, Rahane has scored 2299 runs at 32.84 at a strike-rate of 78.86. His imminent peers have scored runs at the top at a better strike-rate. Shikhar Dhawan boasts of a career strike-rate of 91.08 while Rohit Sharma strikes at 84.56. Talking about openers from other teams, players like Quinton de Kock, Mohammad Shahzad, Dwayne Smith, Alex Hales, David Warner and Jason Roy have far better strike-rates than that of Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane has not dominated the ODI stage like he has done in Test cricket.
Rahane and Dhawan got a solid opening stand of 132 in 25 overs and have done extremely well together at the top in ODIs. But the run margin will only get better if Rahane betters his strike-rate. Rahane has grabbed the opportunity with both the hands and has looked solid at the top, he will be looking to make an impact in the ongoing five-match series with four more games to go. Rahane needs to convert his dot deliveries into singles, which will enhance his strike-rate. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have done reasonably well at the top and have scored runs at a better strike-rate. Rahane’s success will only boost India and provide a solid opening option to consider. If Rahane is eyeing to cement his spot in the line-up, then strike-rate is what he needs to take care about as of now.