It speaks volumes of India’s destructive batting line-up that, despite their atrocious showing during the recent ODI tri-series, and increasingly toothless bowling, they are still considered a firm favourite for a semi-final spot in the World Cup.
Plenty has been said about India’s much vaunted top order and their ability to make huge totals. If India are to be successful down under this spring, then their batsman will certainly need to be on top of their game.
Many will look towards Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and MS Dhoni to provide the fireworks for the boys in blue. But I think that their understated and often overlooked opener Ajinkya Rahane could be vital to any success they may enjoy.
The quiet opener has waited a long time for his chance in international cricket, and he has now fully integrated himself into the Test side. His ODI career has thus far been more hit and miss, an average of 30 from 46 matches is certainly nothing to write home about.
His recent form has been good though, his 73 against England at Perth showed his teammates how they should have played; and he has a good record in Australia. In the Test series this winter, he made 399 runs, averaging 57 and scoring a memorable 147 during the Boxing Day Test.
His calm and assured presence at the top of the Indian ODI line-up, may just be the perfect fit for his partner Shikhar Dhawan. Dhawan is certainly more of a dasher than Rahane, and their pairing will be crucial in ensuring that India don’t suffer any of their famous batting capitulations.
Rahane is unlikely to rile the opposition with his manner, preferring to let his bat do the talking. His is the very antithesis to Kohli’s arrogant brashness, and provides vital counterbalance for his team. His upright and orthodox technique should serve him well on the faster pitches of Australia. He is also India’s finest player of the hook and pull, and in a side renowned for their inability to cope with the short ball; his runs will be warmly received.
Rahane has the temperament to succeed in the pressure environment of tournament cricket. He is a man who, by all accounts, lives and breathes cricket. He was supposedly in the nets until two days before his wedding. His commitment cannot be doubted.
While opposition bowlers may target the more flamboyant members of India’s line up, it would perhaps be wise for them to focus their efforts on dislodging Rahane. He is the batsmen most capable of playing the anchor role, and should allow his teammates to play their natural games around him.
Although, in Indian terms, Rahane is relatively inexperienced in the ODI arena, he is vastly experienced in first-class cricket and has also experienced the IPL. The spectacle of a global event, shouldn’t affect him, as anyone who has seen him bat would attest; he doesn’t appear to feel pressure.
In One-Day cricket, his only obvious weakness is his occasional rush of blood. For a man who often oozes calm and focus, he is prone to attempting to up the tempo at the wrong time, and with the wrong shots.
But if Rahane can be given a clearly defined role, the anchor role, then he has everything required to succeed at the World Cup. Come 29th March it might not be one of India’s batting superstars taking the plaudits, but rather a diminutive opener who has led from the front.