Ajinkya Rahane has become only the third batsman to score five consecutive ODI fifties for India and yet it is only the start of a journey for him. The last one of these fifties was a special effort to help Virat Kohli chase down yet another total and give India a 1-0 lead in this series. It was an important innings for Rahane because it was his return to the middle order. On quicker pitches outside Asia, India finally got flexible with Rahane and let him bat in the middle order; the top three is packed anyway.
It was an innings in which Rahane matched Kohli shot for shot, ran hard, and put together a 189-run partnership after which it was improbable for India to lose. "I really enjoyed batting at No. 4," Rahane said. "This is not something new to me because I batted at No. 4 in the 2015 World Cup [and] also in a few other series, so really enjoyed batting in that position. We just wanted to spend time in the middle. I was confident in myself and my ability. We knew that we wanted to build one partnership, and that's what we did."
Rahane is considered a batsman who likes pace on the ball. In Tests, his record against spin is not as good when compared to his numbers against pace. And though it is not necessarily about spin in limited-overs, he is perceived to be a batsman who struggles to maintain his effectiveness on slower pitches and against the older ball.
That was the reason why he fell out of favour when MS Dhoni was captain. Kohli brought him back, but used him only as an opener on slower pitches. Now in South Africa, Rahane has been thrown a lifeline, keeping in mind that pitches in England, where the 2019 World Cup will be played, will have pace.
Additionally, Rahane has the experience of batting at No. 4 in big matches. He said he felt no different batting in the middle order and that the key to having success there was allowing himself enough time to get set - without letting the run-rate drop - so that his natural instincts can take over later.
"It's all about how you think, especially when you bat No.3 and 4, it's all about how you think," Rahane said. "My mindset was just to take my time initially, and then later on back my instincts. I'm naturally an attacking batsman. And these wickets suit me a lot. Good pace and bounce. Plan was to take my time initially and if I get set, carry on my innings.
"I don't see any difficulties in batting at No. 4. I have mentioned many times that I am ready to bat at any position the team management tells me to. My mindset is such that whatever my team management tells me to do I always give positive response on that. So my mind is always ready to take any opportunity that comes my way."
Rahane came into the ODIs feeling upbeat after playing a crucial innings on a minefield at the Wanderers. "The confidence which came from last Test win at Johannesburg, I got 48, so confidence came from there. But I was actually determined to do well at No. 4 because I batted at that number in the 2015 World Cup and few other series as well. Here, the situation was completely different. We were chasing 270 and we knew that it was a par score on that wicket. Our bowlers did a really good job. Personally, batting at No. 4, I really enjoyed, and I am looking forward to doing even better."
Rahane started the tour unsure of what future had in store. He was not selected for the first two Tests even though he was India's best batsman on their overseas run in 2014 and 2015. And just like their last win outside Asia and the West Indies - Lord's 2014 - Rahane made a key contribution with the bat in the win at the Wanderers. Now he has earned this chance in ODIs.
"I feel really good when you contribute, and the team wins," Rahane said. "I get very happy with it. Winning is everything for us. Our team focusses only on that. I always believe that I can only control the controllables. Many times, you tend to waste your energies on things you cannot control. I believe whatever I can control, I'll focus only on that and conserve energy. So when I get an opportunity to bat, I can use the energy there. Contribution in a win is very pleasing."