The curious case of Ajinkya Rahane

Ajinkya Rahane for CSK
Ajinkya Rahane for CSK (PC: IPL/X)

In last year’s IPL, Ajinkya Rahane emerged as a standout performer for CSK, playing an important role in their fifth title win. That was a make or break season for Rahane. He had struggled earlier in the cash-rich league. Over the three seasons leading up to 2023, he averaged just 15.9 with a strike rate of 104.5, managing only one fifty. His slow starts were evident from his strike rate. However, his fortunes changed drastically after joining CSK.

Batting predominantly at number three, Rahane transformed into an indispensable member of the team. In 11 innings, he amassed 326 runs at an average of 32.6 and a strike rate of 172.5. He dominated pacers with a strike rate of 232.4 but found it challenging against spinners, scoring at 136.4. Rahane showcased his prowess in the Powerplay overs, where he never got out and scored at a blistering rate of 208.3.

Rahane exhibited a batting display marked by elegance, precision, and finesse, rivalling any batter in the annals of this sport. It’s undeniable that he stood out as one of the most captivating batters of IPL 2023, if not the very best.

Following a fruitful season last year, Rahane remained with CSK. However, their attempt to replicate a similar strategy this season has not yielded comparable results. Rahane’s performance this season reflects a decline, with only 199 runs scored in 10 innings. His average has dwindled to 22.1, while his strike rate has significantly dropped from 172.5 last year to 122.8 this season. Although his powerplay average remains close to 40, it’s his strike rate of 127 that poses concerns for the five-time IPL winners.

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Ajinkya Rahane in action
Ajinkya Rahane in action (PC: X)

He started the season as a number three batter. But with him not making much impact in that position, CSK was forced to play their skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad at three. Rachin Ravindra’s poor run of form with the bat led CSK to bench him. In the last few games, CSK has been going with Rahane and Ruturaj at the top. With Ruturaj playing the role of sheet anchor, Rahane has the licence to go after the bowling, but for some reason, he hasn’t been able to do that.

Even in the last game against PBKS, he got off to a steady start. He struck a hat-trick of boundaries against Sam Curran. But as soon as spin was introduced, he started showing signs of struggle. It looked like a different batter was batting against spin. The right-handed Mumbaikar eventually succumbed to spin.

Rahane has been seen as a pace basher in the team. His role is to take the pressure off his young partner Ruturaj and increase the run-rate; something he hasn’t been able to do until now.

Despite the Impact Player rule providing a cushion of an extra batter, Rahane hasn’t been able to express himself the way he did in IPL 2023. In all honesty, he looks like a pale shadow of himself this season. Time is running out for Rahane. He may get to play all the remaining games as CSK has a history of backing their players, but in the long run, Rahane’s T20 career seems in massive trouble.

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