In his mind, Ajinkya Rahane might have been bracing for a usual evening on Saturday, watching Chennai Super Kings tussling it out against Mumbai Indians from the sidelines.
But the unavailability of Moeen Ali handed Rahane his debut in CSK Yellow and we were led to a very unusual evening at the Wankhede Stadium.
Rahane raced to a 27-ball 61 that included a 19-ball fifty, the fastest in IPL 2023 so far. We can safely assume that none, even Rahane himself, wouldn’t have seen it coming.
Sometimes strike-rate can present you a very distorted image, and Rahane was striking at 225.92 during this innings. It was not as brutal as it can be perceived. There was not a single shot played in anger or disdain, but it was an innings based on the very fundamentals of batting — timing and touch.
It was Rahane being Rahane. “I was hitting sixes,” Rahane recalled with a giggle. But those sixes carried the essence of Rahane’s batting.
Jason Behrendorff erred in length and Rahane sweetly swivelled and pulled the hip-high ball over fine leg. Left-arm pacer Arshad Khan bowled one on Rahane’s leg and the right-hander brought out his strong bottom hand to steer the ball over deep fine leg.
It wasn’t power hitting. But Rahane was doing natural justice to the balls that were in his zone to be maximised. Rahane admitted as much.
“Every player is different and their strengths are completely different. I don't want to be someone else. I think I just want to be Ajinkya Rahane. The way I know and how I play my strengths and my timing, so I just want to back myself and I never tried to be someone else. So, it's all about trying to remind myself that if I can just be Ajinkya Rahane and play like Ajinkya Rahane I think I'll be fine,” said Rahane in the post-match press conference.
There could be another reason for Rahane finding his range instantly. The CSK atmosphere under MS Dhoni is often known as forgiving and one that works through giving ample space to the players.
This might have put a player like Rahane straightaway in his comfort zone. CSK captain MS Dhoni stressed that point. “He is not someone who will consistently hit sixes but he is very sound technically. I was very happy with the way he batted,” said Dhoni, also a clear indication that the Super Kings management understands the strong points of Rahane as a player.
The Mumbaikar too was happy about the role clarity given to him by the CSK top brass. “For so many years, I've always opened in this format (T20). So, everyone knows about my role. My game plan, the way I was backed…It was nothing different. Mahi bhai’s instruction was completely clear — just play with intent and back yourself. He told me I don’t change anything else.
“I have shots that I can play on any ground, and it was all about keeping it simple, and the instructions were pretty clear. I am always happy to bat anywhere. I have always been open to the idea of batting at number 3, and it's all about your mindset and what you want to do for yourself and your team. The captain (Dhoni) is a legend, so whatever he decides, no arguments on that. It is for the best of the team,” said Rahane.
Despite all that, it is not clear how many matches Rahane get to play in IPL 2023 once Moeen returns. But this innings will go a long way in telling the world — Rahane is still around.
Perhaps, it might just open the door for Rahane once again as it had happened with his teammate Ambati Rayudu after that big IPL season in 2018. Not a terrible thought too, ain’t so?
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