CHENNAI: “So it is tough for him as of now.” Those words had the somberness of a death note. Or we made it out that way. In the press conference on the eve of India’s opening ODI against South Africa, Mahendra Singh Dhoni admitted the inadequacies of Ajinkya Rahane in the middle order. Most of us were lulled into thinking that he was to bench-warm.
Maybe, we were so intent on reading between the lines that we completely overlooked the other part of his quote: “If given a chance, we will try to feature him in the top three, if not then we would find it tough to place him in the XI.” Or maybe, we chose to overlook, on cue with our snap judging propensities.
Whatever it be, Rahane was not just included in the XI, but more surprisingly (maybe not so much when you think about in isolation), he walked in at No 3, a spot Virat Kohli had dug a trench and bedded in. On the surface, it seemed a bizarre strategy, taking out your most prolific — and insuperably so— batsman out of his comfort zone, to make another batsman feel comfortable. There is enough scope for conspiracy theories.
It was a perceptible compromise — to let Rahane bat better, you are sacrificing Kohli’s most profitable spot. But the more you think about it, the more logical it seems. “I don’t understand why there is so much debate over this. In this form of the game, there is not much of a difference between batting at three or four. Of course, batting at No 3 means there will be less fielders and hence there would be more boundary opportunities. So if the team management feels a specific position is better for a particular batsman, there is no harm in making minor shuffles in your batting order,” observed former India opener WV Raman.
On a dual-paced strip like the one in Kanpur, it was a logical move. “The strip was sluggish and there was a bit of up and down bounce. At one end, Rohit Sharma was batting fluently. So the need of the hour was someone to stabilise the innings at the other end. Rahane batted superbly and did the job that was required of him. In the match was lost because the rest couldn’t finish off this wonderful start. For players as experienced as Rahane and Kohli, I don’t think they would find any difficulty in adjusting to various positions, and these positions are interchangeable depending on the situation and conditions,” Raman stressed. Or in other words, it’s not like asking your centre back to play as winger.
While Rahane is better suited at the top is clear — in 41 matches at top three, he aggregates 33. 32, in 18 outings at No 4 and 7, it drops to 27.0 0 — there is nothing that suggests Kohli is not adept at No 4, a position wherein he averages 59.72 in 36 innings, better than his yield at 3, where though he has walked out 104 times. So it’s a win-win situation.
“He is a world-class batsman and can bat anywhere, and can dictate the match’s tempo, irrespective of where he bats. With Dhoni not in great form, him batting at No 4 gives sufficient depth too,” said former India batsman Chetan Chauhan.
So whichever way you read this, it doesn’t seem much of a brain teaser. And for all one knows, Dhoni would make another mockery of our preconceived notions.