India’s ODI series loss to Australia has compounded more problems than it has solved. Their middle-order woes continue to hurt them in the ODI series. Their No 4 spot is still up for grabs after Ambati Rayudu’s indifferent form and Rishabh Pant flattering to deceive. KL Rahul just got one ODI to make a claim for World Cup squad. Hence, Ajinkya Rahane, who played at No 4 in 2015 World Cup, is back in contention for the 2019 edition.
There are still few places up for grabs in the 2019 World Cup although Indian skipper Virat Kohli insisted they have finalised their XI for the tournament.
Kohli also mentioned that IPL performance will have no bearing in the World Cup selection. But considering the shaky middle-order, BCCI selectors would keenly watch IPL to choose an in-form batsman to solve India’s middle-order woes.
One such player who will be keenly watched is Ajinkya Rahane who surprisingly has fallen out of favour with not only BCCI but even Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri for limited-overs cricket despite proven performances in this format. Rahane has been sadly relegated as a Test cricket specialist.
But considering the No 4 woes, Kohli, Shastri, and BCCI would be monitoring Ajinkya Rahane’s progress in IPL.
In the last World Cup in 2015, Rahane was India’s preferred No 4. He managed 252 runs @ 34.66 in 8 matches in 2015 World Cup. But since then, he has played just 30 ODIs, scoring 15 fifties and one ton. Not a bad record at all in ODIs.
Rahane was given the opener’s slot and was benched whenever Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan was available. The success of the Rohit-Dhawan pair saw Rahane lose his ODI spot with the team management reluctant to try him at No 4.
But with the World Cup being held in England where the pace bowlers will have their way, a technically equipped batsman like Rahane can bail the team out at No 4.
Ambati Rayudu, on the other hand, lack the technical expertise to tackle the moving and swinging balls and his inconsistencies had trouble India’s lower-order more often than it has rescued. With Rahul, Pant too not up to the mark to lend solidity at No 4, the door has opened for Rahane to put up a good show in IPL and knock at the selector’s door for a World Cup berth.
Rahane is himself optimistic of booking a World Cup berth if he produces the goods in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals. BCCI chief selector MSK Prasad too has not dismissed the idea of choosing a player on IPL form. But Kohli has said IPL performance will have no bearing in World Cup selection. That was good only if India had no middle-order woes. But the story is different now.
Only if Rayudu or Rahul or Pant had grabbed their chances, Rahane would still not be hoping another shot at World Cup glory.
Rahane last played an ODI in Feb 2018. Even if Rahane, with his proven high technical skills, produces a memorable IPL 2019 performance, will the selectors be brave enough to include him in the World Cup squad?
Recent team selections and combinations have shown India have lacked clarity and made a whimsical approach towards choosing their best XI.
Rayudu was dropped after 3 failures for KL Rahul at No 4. Rahul was dropped next match to be replaced by Pant at No 4. Dinesh Karthik, a top finisher, was omitted from ODI series against Australia, while MS Dhoni was rested for last two ODIs when the series was on the line. Can it get stranger than this?
Even Rayudu is now not certain of a place in the World Cup squad. Rahul gets preference in ODIs for his T20 heroics, while Pant is just selected because he can hit those big sixes and is a left-handed batsman.
On the other hand, a technically sound batsman like Rahane who can be an asset in English conditions at No 4 is relegated to Test cricket. The strange world of Indian cricket and BCCI selectors.