Methodical Rahane approach ensures win
An unbeaten 66 off 42. A strike rate of 157. A target of 122. This is Ajinkya Rahaneterritory.
While it would be unfair to suggest he is a batsman made for low-pressure situations, his game - founded more on incremental run-gathering than rapid bursts of power-hitting - is perfectly conditioned to the rhythm of chasing small-to-middling totals. Such targets can cause panic, particularly on surfaces where the ball doesn't come in a straight line, and this is where Rahane's expertise is valuable.
He has done this many times for Rajasthan Royals in the past - Saturday's score was Rahane's 19th 50-plus score in his IPL career, level with Virat Kohli at seventh in that category - mostly with Rahul Dravid for company. In IPL 2013, Rahane and Dravid negotiated a Jaipur pitch that had plenty of lateral movement to go with some serious pace from Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav, and accomplished a chase of 155 against Delhi Daredevils. Saturday's Wankhede pitch, though markedly different from the flat surfaces in the World T20, was not unplayable and the target was well below par. Rahane had this covered.
The first ball of the innings from Mitchell McClenaghan was curving back in, but Rahane met it before landing with a friction-free push-drive for four. His stock-in-trade was proving useful, as Rahane, restricted for room by a short ball from Jasprit Bumrah, remained still and punched it late through cover. In the ninth over, Vinay Kumar bowled length outside off with mid-off in the ring and Rahane had no trouble placing his drive between the bowler and fielder.
It wasn't always pretty though - his first six, off McClenaghan, was a hurried, top-edged pull that only just went over the square-leg fielder. In fact, all his attempted pulls wanted for timing on a pitch that allowed for healthy bounce and sharp movement off the seam. But with little scoreboard pressure and Faf du Plessis playing the composed role Dravid did at Rajasthan, Rahane could afford a little rashness once he got his eye in.
"I've always felt the opening partnership is vital in low-scoring matches and it's good we got a 78-run stand," he said. "Our intent was positive, we were looking for runs but it was important to play close to the body. It was important to time the ball on the wicket. This was the first time I was batting together with Faf [du Plessis] and I really enjoyed a lot."
Rahane admitted the pitch was more difficult to bat on than they had initially expected and going for broke wasn't an option.
"We thought it could be 170-180 wicket," Rahane said. "The ball was stopping and seaming a bit, so I wanted to play close to my body. I wanted to take my time. I didn't want to take many chances in the first six overs and just wanted to play proper cricketing shots. Once I was 25-30, I wanted to take my team through."
After du Plessis was dismissed in the 10th over, Rahane found himself batting alongside Kevin Pietersen for the first time in his career. Despite Pietersen being the archetypal aggressor who quickened his tempo towards the end, Rahane was amused at the role-reversal that happened initially. "It was fun batting with KP. When he came in, he just told me, 'Just play your game, whatever you are playing so far, and I'll give you strike."
"It was very different, Kevin Pietersen saying, 'I'll give you strike and you play your shots'. It was very good that he told me such things. But yeah, good to have him. We all know he is an experienced player, especially in this format."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun