It was Januray 11, 2022 when Ajinkya Rahane was last seen in all whites for India. It was a match against South Africa where he scored a paltry nine and one in the first and second innings respectively. Noteably, Rahane had not scored a century in his 27 previous Test innings. As a result, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara were shown the door and Virat Kohli lost the captaincy.
Cut to Indian Premier League 2023. April 25, 2023, exactly 459 days later, the Mumbaikar was named in India’s squad for World Test Championship (WTC) Final starting June 7 against Australia in England. It was unexpected because Rahane has not been the top performer in the domestic season as well.
In the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy season, Rahane played three games, but could score only one century. Later, in the 2022-23 season of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Rahane was not among the top scorers either. However, he had a decent seaon with 263 runs at an average of 52.6 in seven games. He scored two fifties but no century.
In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Rahane led the Mumbai side to a championship victory, however, his form was not the best. He had a horrible outing in the eight games, scoring only 112 runs at an average of 16.
In the Ranji Trophy though, he bounced back a little bit to score 634 runs in 11 innings of seven games at an average of 57. But overall, he was the 15th highest run-getter this season, once again not among the top performers. However, he scored a noteworthy double century against Hyderabad, which was the weakest side this season. The other century too was against a weak Asaam side where he scored 191. Other than that he had a fifty against Delhi, whose bowling attack is weak.
Against teams like Andhra Pradesh, Saurashtra, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, Rahane was unable to get big runs. Hence, his inclusion in India's WTC squad may have stunned a few. However, it is not a head scratcher. Here's how.
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At a time when Shreyas Iyer is injured and Suryakumar Yadav has not been in his best form, Rahane was given the oppurtunity by Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the IPL and he grabbed it both hands. He scored 61 off just 27 at Wankheded on his CSK debut. He then went on to score quickfire 30s in the following games against Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) respectivley. In his last outing, he scored 71* against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) off just 29 balls at a strike rate of 244 to help Chennai post the highest total at Eden Gardens in IPL history.
Rahane was omitted from India’s central contract list earlier this year. Though he had talked about not giving up India hopes during this Ranji season, it is not the domestic performance, rather IPL form and Iyer's injury that has earned him a place back in the team.
India’s WTC Final Squad
Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat