IND vs SL: Rahane mystery clouds Indian team’s preparation

On the eve of India’s second ODI against Sri Lanka, Rahane presented a desolate figure, even as the rest of the members went through the rituals of nets and fielding drills.

Hardik Pandya bowls at the nets in Mohali on Tuesday as Ravi Shastri looks on.   -  AP

The Ajinkya Rahane mystery clouds the Indian team’s preparation ahead of the second One Day International against Sri Lanka at the PCA Stadium here. On the eve of the match, he presented a desolate figure on Tuesday, even as the rest of the members went through the rituals of nets and fielding drills.

For Rahane, it must be difficult to comprehend the reasons for his exclusion from the playing XI. Only last June, he had scores of 62, 103, 72, 60, 39 in the West Indies when he performed the role of an opener excellently and won the Man of the Series honours. In the home series against Australia, he justified his place with a sequence of 5, 55, 70, 53, 61 in September, all in the position of opener.

The official explanation for keeping Rahane out is that he is to be considered a designated opener only. No place in the middle-order for him. The team management, to avoid uncomfortable questions on this subject, presented rookie Washington Sundar for the mandatory match-eve press conference. The young Tamil Nadu all-rounder handled the media with credit but luckily for him did not have to deal with any questions related to Rahane.

READ: Sri Lankan team reaches Mohali just in time

On one hand, the Indian team management wants us to believe that the focus is on creating a flexible set of players where anyone can play any role. But Rahane does not belong to that plan. He is just an opener. Even if it means the middle-order may assume a brittle appearance.

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It is hard to imagine Rahane not figuring in the scheme of things with the South African tour just round the corner, The Mumbai batsman has a fabulous record overseas and is considered among the most technically adept at tackling the seaming and bouncing ball. He had made a shaky start to his first-class career but Pravin Amre, the Mumbai coach, backed him. “I was convinced of his potential,” said Amre. This team management, however, thinks differently.

For any team to do well in challenging situations overseas, it is mandatory to have six batsmen as the core of the line up. No team can win in tough situations by banking on two or three batsmen. Building a batting unit takes time and here India has identified its potent scorers in Virat Kohli, M. Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rahane and K. L. Rahul with Rohit Sharma joining the list only recently.

READ: Lankans stranded in Dharamsala due to rain

Rahane, the vice-captain for the Test series, is relegated to second choice in the one-day scheme because the team management has to adjust others. True, Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey have won the faith of the team management but doubts persist a far as their technique and temperament are concerned when faced with a pitch amiable to bowlers.

Among this lot, Rahane is the one batsman who has proved he can bat at any slot. He can shore up the middle order or wear the mantle of opener with equal finesse. To tag him as an opener has only resulted in denting his confidence despite a decent run of consistency this year. Even Sunil Gavaskar has asked questions in this regard and wondered why Rahane has been targeted.

Rahane, with proven talent and ability, is known to absorb pressure and set up the stage for the middle-over batsmen and the finishers. When the ball flies close to the face on pitches overeas, it is batsman like Rahane who will shoulder the responsibility better than best. Coaches point out he is superb when picking the line of the ball and leaving it. A quality much-needed when countering movement.

Rahane may not necessarily get to play on Tuesday on a pitch where batting first would be the key. Sri Lanka has little to worry about but the Indians would have to dig deep and work hard to prove that the Dharamshala debacle was just an aberration.

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