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Match Analysis

How Ajinkya Rahane became sixy

Once the anchoriest of all anchors, he's maximised his strengths and upped his T20 game to never-before-seen levels

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Ajinkya Rahane in the IPL is a four-hitter.
He's No. 8 on the all-time list with 449. He racked up 73 of them in 2012. Again that puts him in an elite group. Only six men have had a better haul in a single season.
But fours in T20 cricket are like the girlfriend in that meme. Everybody's eyes are drawn to the other lady in the red dress. Sixes.
And Rahane, in a totally NSFW innings for Chennai Super Kings against Kolkata Knight Riders, hit one that left jaws on the floor.
One of India's most orthodox batters, a run machine bred in the fabled maidans of Mumbai where they don't make you read the textbook as much as shove it straight into your veins, casually walked across his stumps and scooped Umesh Yadav out of Eden Gardens.
This has been the biggest difference between the Rahane of the past and this totally baller version. He is launching a six, on average, once every 9.54 balls this IPL. By just this count, he's three times the player he used to be. His previous best was 31.67 balls per six in 2019. Now he's palling it up with the very best big hitters the tournament has to offer. Scratch that. He's leading them.
This is an athlete who has levelled up. He hasn't broken his game down to find new gears. He's just maximised strengths that had been there all along. Kinda like Kane Williamson did five years ago.
Rahane has always been excellent against pace, but this year, he has a strike rate of 254.16. That's the best of everybody who's faced at least 18 deliveries from that style of bowler in this tournament. Better than his captain who mauled Mark Wood.
MS Dhoni once spoke about Rahane's limitations as a one-day batter. About how he slows down once the field spreads out and the ball loses its hardness. On Sunday night, all of Rahane's 71 runs in 29 balls came after the powerplay. With five men on the fence, he found ways to hit six fours and five sixes. He copped to having a little help there. "Small outfield," he told the broadcasters while picking up his first Player-of-the-Match award in the IPL since 2016. "One side was really small [because they weren't playing on the centre wicket]."
KKR had strung three good overs together. The 10th, 11th and 12th cost only 5, 7 and 8 runs respectively. This is the time they take all the pace off the ball and smother opposition batters with their mystery spinners. Suyash Sharma was the one who effected this slowdown and his good work resulted in the wicket of Devon Conway at the start of the 13th.
But CSK probably benefited from it, because it brought Shivam Dube to the crease and he gobbles up spin bowlers. He was a threat so KKR went to their frontline quick. Umesh came on for the 14th over and Rahane, who was 19 off 14 at the time, walloped him for 6, 6, 4.
The scoop was part of this sequence and it was fun to watch, but really, Rahane's good work in this IPL has come as a result of his perfecting his best shots. The cover drive. The pull and hook. The flick. In the three years between 2020 and 2022, he had a strike rate of 127.08 playing these shots. This year it's ballooned up to 240.00.
Rahane has upped his T20 game to never-before-seen levels. And all he's really had to do is let himself go a bit. Let himself have fun. Check out his strike rates in every IPL. See where 2023 is.
Every time he's walked to the crease for CSK this year, he's looked for boundaries. More than that, every time he's got out, he's got out playing a big shot. He wasn't satisfied with 61 off 27 on a flat Wankhede. He wanted more. He was willing to go for more.
That willingness to take a little more risk combined with a little more power - he must have done some serious range-hitting in that CSK pre-season camp - has turned the anchoriest of all anchors into one of this season's sixiest hitters. He even thrived at the death.
Rahane has only been around during overs 17 to 20 on 32 occasions in 153 IPL innings. He was just not that kind of player. He'd typically slow down after the powerplay, go for a big shot to up the strike rate, and get out. Here, he was the game's highest scorer in this phase, facing nine balls, hitting six of them to the boundary and collecting 33 runs.
So how did all this happen? Well first, Rahane has tried to go into every match as clear-headed as possible. "I always believe the most important thing is what's between your ears," he said. "If your mind is right, you can do anything. So just wanted to keep my mind really clear before the season. Process was really good. Our preparations before the season was really good. So just trying to enjoy the game and keep my mind clear."
And then role clarity. "When you realise the potential of someone, you let him bat the way he bats," Dhoni said. "The moment you start putting too much pressure on him, it doesn't work. Give that liberty and just reiterate as to these are the areas where you're strong in. Whatever your strength is, be positive, enjoy it. And I feel it always works out in the best possible manner. Second thing is trying to give him in the best position where he can score runs."
A combination of all this has resulted in Rahane scoring 209 runs this season, at an average of 52.25 and a strike rate of 199.04, and the funny thing is he feels, "my best is yet to come".
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman, Karthik Krishnaswamy and Ishita Mazumder

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo