Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane showed a new array of strokes during his unbeaten 71 against Kolkata on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Former Indian star Ajinkya Rahane has come out in a new avatar for Chennai Super Kings, displaying a breathtaking array of shots to leave his rivals in awe during the Indian Premier League Season 2023. The diminutive batter has scored 209 in five matches at a strike rate of 199. His stunning attack has left the Kolkata Knight Riders in shock as the Yellow outfit raced to a mammoth 235 for four in 20 overs.

What is the secret behind this transformation? A careful analysis of his interview during the prize presentation ceremony will give an insight to his newfound success formula. “I always prepared thoroughly, wanted to improve every day and tried to develop new shots. CSK has given me the opportunity to showcase my full range of shots,” Rahane said after his 29-ball 71 not out gave Chennai a 49-run win in Kolkata on Sunday. His knock contained five sixes through proper cricketing shots, a welcome change from the powerhitting blows one get to see often.

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Great learning

“When you play under Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni), you get an opportunity to learn a lot. I’ve played under Mahi bhai for India for many years, and now even at CSK for the first time. It has been a great learning. If you listen to whatever he says, you will go out there and achieve anything,” adds the Super Kings’ second-highest scorer this season, behind Devon Conway.

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Rahane receives the player of the match award. Image Credit: SPORTZPICS for IPL

It is nothing new for Chennai Super Kings. Many of the discards, both Indian and international stars, have become match-winners when they become part of the Chennai family. Harbhajan Singh, Robin Uthappa, Shane Watson and Ambati Rayudu are a few who have dazzled under Dhoni. At one time, Chennai Super Kings were dubbed as the Dad’s army for having so many veterans in their line-up, still the Men in Yellow went on to win the title.

Team environment

Test specialist Rahane was the vice-captain before his game got Jinxed and lost his place in the Indian team. Chennai picked him for the base price of Rs5 million and the right-hander is proving more than his worth.

Talking about Rahane, Dhoni, at the presentation ceremony, said: “I think what’s also important is that there is a lot of time when you realise the potential of someone and you let him bat the way he (Rahane) bats. Give them the liberty. Whatever your strength is, be positive and enjoy it. I feel it always works out in the best possible manner.

“Second thing is trying to give him the best position where he can score runs. If you put too many players out of position, they find it slightly difficult, but still, in a team environment, somebody has to sacrifice his slot so that most of the players they are able to play in a slot they are comfortable with,” added the skipper, dubbed as Captain Cool, who knows how to get the best out of a player as the 2021 champions have hit their stride early to top the table midway though the long tournament.

Chennai Super Kings' captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (centre) leads the team back to the pavilion after winning the match against Kolkata. Image Credit: AFP

Role clarity

Uthappa, one of the Jio Cinema experts, said “There are a couple of things that separate this Chennai franchise from others. The first is role clarity, there is communication, and they’re given confidence that if they get a chance, they can get at least four to five chances even if they don’t score. Especially, if you are a proven senior professional. What more does a player want? If you give a good player security, he’ll 100 per cent perform well.”

Rahane’s new innings as an attacking player earned comparisons with former New Zealand skipper and a Twenty20 specialist Brendon McCullum, who scored IPL’s first century.

Best is yet to come

“Rahane has completely reinvented himself. This is closer to Brendon McCullum-style batting than Ajinkya Rahane. The strike rate in this tournament so far has been through the roof. So many shots are not only elegant, but incredibly destructive as well, helping things on the way. You have to sit back and admire what they’ve created. It just goes to show the clarity and freedom he’s been given from Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni to come out and play ridiculous shots,” former England skipper Eoin Morgan said.

Rahane, a black belt in karate, knows how to land the knockout punch. “The way I’m batting right now, I just want to keep continuing this form and keep contributing to the team,” he said. “I really enjoyed my knock, but I feel my best is yet to come.”

— With inputs from IANS