The predicament of being Ajinkya Rahane
By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - With a "no-vacancy" sign plastered on India's top order and his utility in the middle questioned by his own captain, Ajinkya Rahane suddenly finds his consistency with the bat means very little.
The 27-year-old Mumbai batsman has forced his way into the final 15 for next month's World Twenty20 on home soil but is unlikely to play a major role in the hosts' bid for a second 20-over World title under Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The left-right combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have locked up the opening slots, followed by batting mainstay Virat Kohli and limited overs specialist Suresh Raina.
An industrious accumulator in a lineup teeming with swashbuckling power-hitters, Rahane can only hope for a middle order slot but Dhoni, forthright as ever, has virtually dismissed the possibility.
Dhoni insists Rahane, as evident from his consistent performance in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 competition, is at his best as an opener and lacks the muscle power to excel as a lower-order slogger.
"When both the openers perform well, it makes life slightly difficult for the skipper," the India captain told reporters on Tuesday.
"Rahane, at the end of the day, is a fantastic player but you also have to consider the fact that in Twenty20, he is somebody who has done really well when he is opening the batting.
"If you look at the team we have got for the Twenty20 World Cup, you find it difficult to find a place for him."
An automatic selection in the test team, Rahane has a strike rate of 114 in T20 Internationals and is among the rare batsmen who can score freely and still not offend the purists with his shot-making.
Almost an anachronism in an exuberant group that wears its heart on its sleeve, the soft-spoken Rahane notched up six half-centuries in his last 10 one-day international knocks, floating from one to seventh position in the batting order.
With India deciding to preserve Kohli for bigger things, Rahane batted at number three in this month's home T20 series against Sri Lanka and will almost invariably make way when the test skipper returns for the upcoming Asia Cup.
This is despite Rahane finishing last year's IPL as the second highest run-scorer, behind only Australia opener David Warner.
Dhoni rates Rahane among the top three Indian batsmen in IPL but is against tinkering with a well-settled batting lineup for the March 8-April tournament.
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)