Before the five-match series in the Caribbean, Ajinkya Rahane last played an ODI against England in January 2017. With a fit-again Rohit Sharma reuniting with Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order in the Champions Trophy and Kedar Jadhav bedding into the middle order and providing handy offspin, Rahane was benched for each of India's five matches in their run to the Champions Trophy final.
The decision to rest Rohit for the West Indies then tour paved the way for Rahane's recall in the XI. Opening the batting with Shikhar Dhawan, Rahane made three successive fifty-plus scores, including a hundred in the second ODI in Port of Spain. His latest contribution - a measured 72 off 112 balls in the third game in Antigua - laid the groundwork for India securing a 2-0 lead in the series. After warming the bench in England, Rahane has said he is keen to 'make it count' in the Caribbean.
"When I was not playing in the Champions Trophy I was focussing on my fitness training as well as my batting," he said. "It is good to learn something or the other about your batting and about your fitness as well but when we came here I was hungry and wanted to do well. I was batting well in the nets here as well as in England. So, I wanted to make it count."
Rahane scored 19 off the first 19 balls he faced, but slowed down later on a sluggish pitch. His strike-rate of 64.28 was the second-slowest since 2010 for openers batting first and facing 110 balls.
"That was a perfect innings for me as an opening batsman," Rahane said. "Even before that game I got 62 runs [in the first ODI] and I was batting really well. In the second game I wanted to make it really count, the century felt really good."
Rahane, though, wasn't flustered about his underwhelming strike-rate on Friday and insisted that sussing out the conditions was the key. "I can make up for it [slow start]. This wicket was completely different," he said. "I do practice different shots in the nets but in the game situation you have to read the conditions and play according to that. I was completely comfortable in the middle. I knew I took some time but I knew if I stay there I can make it count in the end. I was not worried at all and I don't take things for granted."
MS Dhoni and Kedhar Jadhav then built on Rahane's work and smashed 81 together in 46 balls to lead India to 251 for 4. Rahane said that the late blows were vital in stretching India's total by an extra 20 runs.
"Kedar is a completely different player. He is aggressive, he likes to play his shots, express himself," Rahane said. "Today was the perfect situation for him, last 8-10 overs, just go out there and express himself. I felt that partnership between Mahi bhai and Kedar was very important. We were looking to score 225-230 but we got 20 extra runs in the end."