Batsman offers new dimension to Twenty20 matches

Ajinkya Rahane does not lack power, but that is not his main asset. He scores runs with the same strokes he would use in the longer, slower versions of the game.

Updated: May 04, 2012 18:40 IST
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Twenty20, the newest and shortest of cricket's three formats, favors the game's sluggers.

When the aim is to score the most runs in the shortest time, these are the men teams in the lucrative Indian Premier League value - ferociously powerful hitters like the West Indians Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, England's Kevin Pietersen or India's Virender Sehwag. (Also see: Pics- New dimensions in hairstyles)

There is, however, another way to Twenty20 batting success, as illustrated by a glance at the statistics for the fifth edition of the I.P.L. Gayle and Sehwag are indeed where you would expect to find them, close to the top of the list of the highest run scorers.

But at the very top, leading the chase for the Orange Cap, awarded to the player who scores most runs in the I.P.L. season, is a very different sort of player: the 23-year-old Indian Ajinkya Rahane.

Scorer of 458 runs in the first 10 matches of the league's 16-match season, Rahane will be looking to add to his tally when the Rajasthan Royals play Kings XI Punjab in Mohali on Saturday.

Rahane does not lack power, but that is not his main asset. He scores runs with the same strokes he would use in the longer, slower versions of the game. The ball is stroked rather than slugged, placed precisely and struck with a straight bat rather than the cross-batted lunges that lead to many I.P.L. sixes.

Those qualities were perfectly displayed in his most spectacular feat this season, as he hit six consecutive boundaries in an over bowled by Sreenath Aravind of the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

The I.P.L. places huge value on the six-hit - cricket's version of the home run, where the ball is launched out of the playing area without touching the ground. It keeps tallies of the number scored in each tournament, and measures the length of every one.

But like the home run, the six carries the inherent risk of being caught. None of Rahane's boundaries against Bangalore was a six. Each counted for four, as they hit the ground before reaching the boundary, and none was at risk of being caught.

The gem among them was the first, a ball struck with sweet timing straight back past Aravind. There was little apparent effort, just impeccable timing. It was a stroke that would have graced any of cricket's three forms.

That sequence of strokes sped Rahane toward a score of 103 not out, making him the first player to score 100 runs or more in an innings in the current I.P.L. season. It also meant he possessed the two highest scores of the season, following an innings of 98 against Punjab. Pietersen has since also made 103 not out, but Rahane remains first and third on the list, and has added a score of 84, which ranks ninth.

Some observers watching Rahane's classical technique have assumed that he is better suited to longer versions of the game.

"I know people look at me and say that, but I feel that a good player should be able to handle all three formats. It is all in the mind, really," Rahane said in an interview with The Times of India.

Rahane lives up to his own ideal. He has played for India in the one-day and Twenty20 format, and a batting average of close to 70 runs per innings in the major-league standard three- and four-day cricket has made him an obvious candidate for elevation to the national team in five-day tests.

He is a player unlikely to be carried away by success.

"I don't believe in flying high after scoring a century, nor do I get depressed after a duck," he told the Times of India, referring to cricket slang for being out without scoring.

Rajasthan's innings have become something of a treat for the cricketing purist, as Rahane opens the batting with the team captain, Rahul Dravid, who has the most classically orthodox technique of any recent player. Rahane is naturally flattered, but remains grounded: "He has played for 15 years, and I have just started. I don't think I have reached the point where I can be compared to him."

His success is also encouraging other players who rely on technique rather than power. Robin Bist, a 24-year-old who is close to a place in India's five-day test team but cannot get an I.P.L. game with the Delhi Daredevils, told The Hindustan Times that Rahane had "good technique and doesn't play rash shots, even in this format. It gives me a lot of hope."

Although the end of battle for the Orange Cap is still a long way off, Rahane has surely already clinched one title - the 2012 I.P.L. bargain of the year, costing Rajasthan only $60,000. For that, the team is getting not only quality but variety in a player who brings a subtle extra dimension to the Twenty20 game.

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