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WTC Final 2021-23: In-form Ajinkya Rahane’s inclusion strengthens injury-hit India

WTC Final 2021-23: In-form Ajinkya Rahane’s inclusion strengthens injury-hit India. Ajinkya Rahane scored 634 runs from 7 games in Ranji Trophy 2022-23.

WTC 2021-23 Final: Ajinkya Rahane gets a call for WTC final; included in India squad | Walking wicket (Images_ ©BCCI_Twitter)
Ajinkya Rahane gets a call for WTC final (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)

Amidst all the excitement and anticipation of the ongoing sixteenth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023, the attention has slowly begun to shift towards the upcoming ICC World Test Championship 2021-23 where second-time finalists India will take on Australia in June at The Oval in London.

The national selectors have recalled veteran Ajinkya Rahane, who was dropped from India’s Test team almost fourteen months ago and was demoted in the central contract of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) almost one month earlier.

The 34-year-old former Test captain was omitted at the end of the 2021-22 tour of South Africa after a long run of low scores, but the extended list of the injuries to some of the key players like Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant and Rahane’s own spectacular form in the ongoing IPL 2023 playing for the Chennai Super Kings have offered him a comeback route.

India squad for the WTC 2021-23 final: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, KS Bharat (Wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat

Rahane earns well-deserved spot on the back of rich form in IPL & Ranji Trophy

The BCCI in sync with the recent trend haven’t found it important to plate out the reason in the media statement behind the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane for the one-off Test against Australia in the WTC final. The interim chief selector Shiv Sundar Das didn’t take any questions from the journalists on behalf of crores of Indian fans who already have begun to scratch their heads about that odd selection.

The veteran of 82 Test matches after getting dropped from the Test side decided to show his skills in the Ranji Trophy 2022-23 where he was the highest run scorer for Mumbai and the 14th leading run getter of the tournament with 634 runs in seven games at an average of 57.63 and strike rate of 62.15 including one fifty and couple of centuries with a best score of 204. In Duleep Trophy 2022-23, he notched up 250 runs in three games at an average of 62.50 and strike rate of 67.20 including his best score of unbeaten 207.

Still, the dynamic IPL form arrived at the right time for him where he has collected 224 runs in seven games at an average of 44.80 and strike rate of 189.83 including two fifties.

“I am so glad Rahane has made it to the side” - Ravi Shastri backs the decision by BCCI

The former India coach, Ravi Shastri who was India’s head coach during WTC 2019-21 Final against New Zealand has backed the decision of picking up Ajinkya Rahane, underlining his desire to play first-class cricket and the runs he has made there was the key behind his return.

A night before the announcement of India’s squad, Rahane impressed with a stormy knock of 29-ball 71 against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, displaying his powerplay game and new six-hitting abilities.

“I’m so glad he has made it to the side,” Shastri told ESPNCricinfo on the Ravi & Raunak Show suggesting that it was the right path especially after the injury of Shreyas Iyer. “He batted beautifully in these two-three games he’s played in the IPL, he looked in great touch and let’s not forget the experience he has.”

“People think he’s just played three IPL games and that’s why he’s in the side. They must have been on holiday for six months when he was playing first-class cricket,” Shastri spoke how Rahane’s 634-run Ranji season was more important than this IPL. “They must have been somewhere in the jungle where there’s no contact with anyone in the world; when you go six months into a holiday, you miss those 600 runs.”

Before being dropped from the national Test side, Rahane celebrated a great century during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne on the Australia tour in 2020-21. Cheteshwar Pujara too along with Rahane found himself out of the team but his success in county cricket where he scored three double centuries playing for Sussex across formats, has fueled his return.

Shastri stressed on the importance of experience in a one-off game and stated Rahane’s presence will benefit India in the WTC Final.

“Absolutely, it’s a one-off game, like the Super Bowl, and you need your experienced player,” Shastri expressed. “Don’t forget just two and a half years ago, the man won a Test series in Australia and he was the captain when Virat (Kohli) went (on paternity leave) and did a sterling job.”

Shastri managed to plate out the example of Pujara of how he went back to the grind playing domestic cricket and got the runs under his belt before making it back to the Test format. He also spelled how Rahane’s good form and ball-striking has been a factor in his ultimate selection.

“Domestic cricket was over two months ago and people might tend to forget it, even the selectors and suddenly you come in and play that kind of innings where you look at ease and the footwork is good, the confidence is good,” Shastri briefed out.

Rahane’s wealthy experience and form will benefit injury-hit India

The selectors picked Rahane ahead of players like Suryakumar Yadav, Sarfaraz Khan or Hanuma Vihari. This indicates that they perhaps have started to move on from SKY while Rishabh Pant’s return to competitive cricket can only happen later. Both Shreyas Iyer and Rajat Patidar are out of action due to respective injuries. At the time, the weak zone of Sarfaraz Khan of playing the short ball has pushed his selection far away in those foreign conditions.

Although Hanuma Vihari has done justice to most of the opportunities he has got, he too hasn’t been considered having recovered from a fractured wrist. However, with a hamstring injury ruling out KL Rahul out of the WTC final, it will be interesting in which direction the selectors run at the moment.

With Rahul’s injury, Rahane’s place in the playing eleven is almost certain but Kennington Oval, the ground where the WTC 2021-23 Final is going to take place, is not among his favourite ones. On this very ground in six innings over three tours starting in 2014, Rahane has 55 Test runs at an average of 9.17 with a highest score of just 37 including three ducks.

But Rahane is one of those rare players whose away Test average of 40.09 is better than his home Test average of 35.74 and if he can show his recent form then he can surely justify his recall and help India end their decade-long wait of an ICC title.

The World Test Championship (WTC) 2021-23 Final will be played between India and Australia from June 7 to 11 at the Kennington Oval in London.

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