Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Did Rajasthan Royals do Ajinkya Rahane a favour by firing him? IPL 2019 talking points

Here are three points of discussion on Season 12 of the Indian Premier League as it nears the play-offs stage

Rajasthan Royals probably did Ajinkya Rahane, left, a favour by replacing him with Steve Smith, right, as their captain. Vishal Bhatnagar / AP Photo
Rajasthan Royals probably did Ajinkya Rahane, left, a favour by replacing him with Steve Smith, right, as their captain. Vishal Bhatnagar / AP Photo

More runs from Rahane, please

When Rajasthan Royals opener Ajinkya Rahane smashed his way to a century against Delhi Capitals on Monday, it seemed like a hark back to the first Twenty20 international he played – against England nearly eight years ago.

Rahane scored a 39-ball 61 and, even though India lost that game, a star was born. The selectors were taking their first steps towards rebuilding the side at the time, and the 23-year-old batsman’s debut was like a breath of fresh air.

In the years to come, he offered the team flexibility because he could bat in more than one position in the line-up, although he seemed most comfortable in the top order in the limited-overs game and the middle order in Tests.

But even as his roles in the Test team became defined – he bats at No 5 and is Virat Kohli’s vice-captain – his flexibility in limited-overs cricket went from being a boon to bane. Part of the reason for his declining fortunes is the success of the Rohit Sharma-Shikhar Dhawan opening combination, and the team management's struggles to find a permanent spot for him in the middle order.

Rahane has not done badly with the limited opportunities he got at No 4, but his strike-rate of below 80 does not cut it in the modern game any more. His constant shunting up and down the order, accompanied by frequent benching, has also done considerable damage to his confidence.

This is possibly why he has been caught second-guessing himself by opposition bowlers, sometimes even during Test matches, and it certainly is the reason why he doesn't find a place in the 2019 World Cup squad.

One of Rahane’s problems is when it comes to batting he is a jack of most styles and a master of none.

He is not a natural stroke-maker like Rohit, doesn't score quickly like Dhawan, cannot grind bowling attacks to dust like Cheteshwar Pujara, and lacks Kohli’s bloody-mindedness and self-belief. In recent times, he has also struggled to shift gears like MS Dhoni.

And yet, it all comes together when Rahane is clear-minded.

It does not happen as often as he would like, but the Royals management probably did him a favour by firing him from the captaincy last week so he can focus on his batting. As if by magic, he responded with a hundred against one of the best bowling attacks in the Indian Premier League.

One hopes this is the start of a revival in Rahane’s limited-overs career, because few doubt the value he brings to any side, including India's. Exactly what that value is, or amounts to, is up to him to figure out.

Smriti Mandhana, one of India's most promising batswomen, will play in the IPL exhibition matches. Eranga Jayawardena / AP Photo
Smriti Mandhana, one of India's most promising batswomen, will play in the IPL exhibition matches. Eranga Jayawardena / AP Photo

More women’s games fair game

That more women’s exhibition matches have been added to the IPL schedule should come as great news to all cricket lovers.

Last year, there were just two teams – Supernovas and Trailblazers – who were involved in a one-off match. This season, a third team – Velocity – has been thrown into the mix, with all three sides playing each other once before the best two face off in a final.

Indian stars Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana will captain the respective sides, and the games will be held in Jaipur on May 6, 8, 9 and 11.

The exhibition matches are part of the Indian cricket board’s plan to take the public’s temperature on women’s cricket. Given the growing appetite for it around the world, including in Australia's Big Bash League, it is perhaps a matter of time before the IPL has a women's tournament.

Dale Steyn, centre, may be injured but he has revived Royal Challengers Bangalore's hopes of making the IPL play-offs. Bikas Das / AP Photo
Dale Steyn, centre, may be injured but he has revived Royal Challengers Bangalore's hopes of making the IPL play-offs. Bikas Das / AP Photo

Steyn’s shoulder setback

Just when Royal Challengers Bangalore seemed to be getting their act together, they received a major setback when Dale Steyn pulled out of the remainder of IPL 2019 with a shoulder inflammation.

South Africa’s selectors will be monitoring his situation even though he is likely to recover in time for the World Cup. But RCB will have to make do with the limited bowling resources they have at their disposal because they cannot rope in a replacement now that the season is past the halfway stage.

But if it is to believed, then Steyn’s impact on the team should linger beyond his presence in the squad.

Firstly, he has helped revive the franchise’s previously sagging fortunes by inspiring them to victories in the two games he played. But the veteran fast bowler has reportedly also lent some of his experience to young pacemen Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini.

Four wins from 11 games means Bangalore have a mountain to climb to reach the play-offs. But Kohli’s men beat Kings XI Punjab on Wednesday without Steyn’s help, so they will no doubt be backing themselves.

Updated: April 28, 2019 01:23 PM

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