Ajinkya Rahane’s heroics made light of a simple enough task for his new rising team from Pune on the opening night of the IPL season-9 and he was justly awarded the man of the match and feted as a T20 performer. Just roll back the events to a couple of weeks earlier and you will be told an open secret, which is that the villain of the piece in India’s defeat at the hands of the West Indies was the same Ajinkya Rahane. Yes, he ruined Team India’s chances in the semi-final with a selfish performance, the likes of which should never be seen in a World Cup event, which is all about team work and not individuals.
In batting through to the 16th over, Rahane, who was made to open the innings that day in place of the out-of-form Shikhar Dhawan, prevented India from attaining a total closer to potential on a pitch and in conditions in which 230 had not proved enough of a target for Team England against South Africa in the competition. Ajinkya struck all of two boundaries off the 34 balls he faced. In opening the innings he potentially had far more striking opportunities, particularly because he had a fair share of the strike in the first six overs of the field placement restrictions too.
It appeared Rahane wanted to prove himself capable of making a score in T20 cricket, that too in the high pressure World Cup. He wanted to bat for himself, not so much for the team. His job may have been made considerably easier by the presence of Virat Kohli who was in fantastic form, looking capable of taking on any opposition singlehanded.
Playing second fiddle is a fair ploy in most types of cricket, but not in T20 when scoring opportunities are limited to 120 balls. If a batsman passes on the responsibility by picking a single off any ball he faces, he is only adding to the burden of the other batsman as well as the team.
Instead of aiming for a total somewhere in the early 200s, Team India had to settle for a score just below the mark and, ironically, was content in leaving that target because most came from one man’s brilliance. What we failed to see was how Rahane, in hanging on to the strike and not hitting the ball enough in trying to clear the boundary rope (I am told it is sponge these days rather than rope), was actually denying a par total for his team. And he also left Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the best finishers who take the maximum toll in the end overs, just nine balls to face. That helped finish Team India’s chances of making a winning total well past the psychological barrier of 200 in T20s.
To generalise such a performance into a zonal attitude of all batsmen coming from the West is actually not fair. Selfishness is not a characteristic particular to any one zone of Indian cricket. However, there would be whispers inside the team about the selfish attitude of individuals, which again is only to be expected in a team comprising a large group of men.
Let us just say that Rahane brought back memories of batting performances in times when selection was an uncertain process and batsmen had to bat for tick marks against their names to get another chance for India. All that has changed these days when huge amounts are given out to everyone and all they are expected to do is to play for the team rather than themselves.