A seasoned cricketer, vice-captain, and an established member of the Indian cricket team, Ajinkya Rahane had everything going for him in the longest format. He also led India to a win Down Under in 2018-19, and things looked bright. However, form evaded Rahane since then, both home and away and finally, the middle-order batter was led to being dropped and his vice-captaincy gone as well. Rahane was dropped from the Indian side for a Test series versus Lanka.
Notably, it wasn’t just him but also Cheteshwar Pujara, who too struggled after the 2018-19 tour of Australia. Both senior players who have a few more years of cricket left will want to represent India once more and, most importantly, the 2021-23 ICC World Test Championship.
Sadly, the curtains could be there for Rahane and a door opened for Pujara. This is because of County cricket and the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022 season. India will be playing England in a Test match left of last year. We could see Pujara come in at number three and Rahane not being anywhere near. Here we decode why Rahane missed the trick by not opting for County like Pujara and preferring the IPL instead.
A dismal IPL 2022 campaign
Rahane was bought by KKR at his base price in the IPL 2022 mega auction by Kolkata Knight Riders. There was a hope that a seasoned player like him would play as per his strengths. Rahane did start well in his maiden game but then vanished away. He scored 44 in his first game before getting scores of 9, 12, 7, and 8. Rahane was dropped by KKR, and he looked on from the bench. Imagine coming to the IPL and then warming the bench after opportunities gone by is pretty much taxing for a senior player.
Rahane did make a comeback in the game versus MI on Monday after different sets of KKR openers kept failing. He was off to a decent start, and his job was to bat for a long period. However, trying to reverse sweep with zero application in a situation when it wasn’t required saw him perish for 25. KKR had Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, and Sunil Narine to play the big shots, but Rahane’s insignificant application saw him walk back.
In IPL 2022, he has 105 runs at an average of 17.50. This is abysmal for a senior batter like Rahane.
Where is the desire?
If Rahane wants to return to the scheme of things for India, County Cricket at this time would have served him well. Away from all the noise in IPL and lenses focusing on every batter, a stint at a County club would have served him well. Rahane could have taken NOC from the BCCI and tried to sign for a side. Given India are set to play a Test in England, Rahane would have used these two months in challenging situations and conditions. A good amount of exposure and quality knocks would have brought him back into the limelight.
Not saying Rahane would have walked back in, but the fight and graft would have enhanced his chances if things had worked out in hindsight. Playing FC cricket in challenging conditions would have benefitted a cricketer trying to earn his place back. On the other hand, warming the bench in the IPL further envelopes Rahane in a closed space.
Why Pujara has done the right thing
Pujara chose to play County cricket, and he is having a dream run with the bat for Sussex. Pujara is playing in the County Championship Division 2, which is the second-tier of FC cricket in England. In four matches (7 innings), Pujara has already smacked more than 700 runs. He has scored 717 runs at 143.40. He is the second-highest scorer in the competition after Durham’s SR Dickson (729). Pujara has played two innings fewer.
What has made Pujara click is his positive nature and hunger. He has batted with a sense of purpose and determination. Pujara has already scored four tons, including 2 double-tons. His scores read as 6, 201*, 109, 12, 203*, 16, and 170*. By scoring 203*, Pujara matched Mohammad Azharuddin’s 28-year-old record of scoring two double-centuries in County Cricket. The former India cricketer had struck 212 against Leicestershire in 1991 and, later, 205 against Durham in 1994. Azharuddin registered both his scores while playing for Derbyshire. Pujara has registered 15 double-centuries in First-class cricket. It is the most by an Asian cricketer.
Chances for Rahane and Pujara?
Rahane basically has zero chances of going back to the Indian Test side as of now. And this could also mean his return could almost be over as other players can step up and fill in. The poor run of form and lack of confidence is something that has bothered the cricketer for a while now. He seems not to have come out from the rut. Also, his decision-making seems baffling by choosing IPL over County.
On the other hand, Pujara’s runs for Sussex will give him a platform to enhance his reputation. Selectors will be watching his progression closely, and he has only given himself a chance of being selected in India’s lone Test versus England. Given the runs have come in England in the County, he has only heightened his chances.