Stalking Ajinkya Rahane

A summation of the impressive run of scores the young Royals opener has made in IPL5.

There is no storm attached to his name, no scoop, no switch-hit and neither does he strike fear in the minds of bowlers; or does he? But he will hurt you where it hurts – just ask Sreenath Aravind, Deccan Chargers and some other parties who have been at the receiving end.  We know by now that this little fella is no one trick pony like Paul Valthaty. Where is Paul anyway?

Rahane doesn't look like one of those players who would take Twenty20 cricket by storm - one of the reasons he was found warming the bench during his tenure with Mumbai Indians. But today, opposition think-tanks have an extra job – that of finding ways to contain him. The name Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane, today, sends jitters down the opposition’s spine. And with Shane Watson having rumbled into town to lend the pack some Royal steel, former champions Rajasthan look irresistible.

I am not sure if Royals will make the play-offs, but Rahane looks ready for the next level - India.

Dravid and Rahane made an effective opening partnership this IPL. Here's a look at how the youngster has fared in IPL-V so far:

April 6, Match 4: Batting first, Rajasthan posted a massive 191 courtesy Rahane's sublime 98. He mostly targeted the straight field and extra cover region for boundaries, hitting 16 fours and a six in his 66-ball knock. Rajasthan won the one-sided home game against Kings XI Punjab by 31 runs. Ajinkya was adjudged Man of the Match for his classy knock which set up the game easily for Royals. "I don't rate it as my best knock but certainly it’s one of the best," said Rahane.

April 8, Match 7:
After a superb start against Punjab, Royals hosted Kolkata Knight Riders with the crowd hoping for yet another Rahane show. However, the right-handed batsman returned without opening his account - he was run out chasing a single that wasn't there. Rajasthan posted 164 after being asked to bat first and then restricted Knight Riders to 142.

April 11, Match 12: Rahul Dravid's decision to bowl first backfired as Mumbai Indians piled on 197/6, thanks to a scintillating 33-ball 64 by Kieron Pollard. Rajasthan got off to a disastrous start losing Rahul Dravid and Shreevats Goswami in the second over of their innings. Rahane and Owais Shah put up a good fight but could not prevent a defeat. Young Rahane was stroke-full during his 40-run stay, smashing four boundaries and two huge sixes. "We got a young and inexperienced bowling attack which got under the pump and panicked against Pollard's class. We will look to try and improve," said Dravid after the match.

April 13, Match 15: Dravid opted to bat this time after winning the toss and Rajasthan managed only 131/5 in 20 overs on a slow turning wicket at the Eden Gardens. The visiting team got off to a good start but then lost their way after Rahane and Rahul departed. Shakib Al Hasan and Sunil Narine ran rings around the batsmen on a sluggish surface. The KKR spinners conceded just 58 in 11 overs, picking up 4 wickets. Royals' bowlers tried their best but they just didn't have enough experience to defend the modest total. Rahane failed to fire, as did Rajasthan.

April 15, Match 18:
After back-to-back losses, Royals once again looked to Rahane against Bangalore, and he obliged with aplomb. Sreenath Aravind's 14th over read 4,4,4,4,4 and 4 - I need not say who the batsman was. Ajinkya went on to score his maiden IPL ton in just 58 deliveries, hitting 12 glorious fours and five sixes. Chasing 195, RCB were bundled out for 136 in 19.5 overs. After missing out on a century by just two runs against Punjab, Rahane looked like a man on a mission as he hit two boundaries in the last over to score the first century of this year's IPL. If one had to choose a perfect batsman who had all the attributes, the 23-year-old is likely to make the cut – he is blessed with stroke-play, positional sense, aggression and conduct on the field. "We were pretty satisfied where we were at but amazing hitting from Rahane took the game away from us," losing skipper Daniel Vettori said.

April 17, Match 20: By now Rajasthan Royals had been prefixed with 'mighty' to their name - thanks to an amazing run of form by their top-order batsmen. Deccan Chargers did their job well, amassed 196 runs and handed the ball to one Dale Steyn - who went for the most runs of all bowlers that night. Rahane and Dravid came up with a spirited chase - blasting Chargers all over the park. Rajasthan achieved the target with two balls to spare. The Royals of 2012 continued to ride much higher than some experts might have predicted they would, following the exit of Shane Warne.

April 21, Match 26: Chennai Super Kings defeated Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets. Ajinkya Rahane managed only 15 in Rajasthan's 146, and the bowling inexperience finally began to haunt the former champions. The match did go to the last ball but the chinks in the armour were clearly visible.

April 23, Match 30: Chasing 190 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals fell short of 46 runs. Ajinkya Rahane managed just 13 before being dismissed by Kotarangada Appanna, who produced career-best Twenty20 figures of 4 for 19.

April 29, Match 39: This was a heartbreak match. Chasing 153 runs, Rajasthan needed two runs off the final ball after Rahane smashed Umesh Yadav for a six and then grabbed two runs from the penultimate delivery. However Rahane missed the last ball and Owais Shah was run out while attempting a single. Delhi Daredevils won by 1 run and the IPL 2012 leading run-scorer (at that time) Rahane was reduced to tears. His unbeaten 84 - which included nine fours and one six - was not enough to get his side over the line in a thrilling finish.

May 01, Match 43: Two days later, Rajasthan hosted the in-form Daredevils for the return leg - only this time Delhi did not take it to the last over. Chasing a modest 142 runs, the visiting team finished the match inside 16 overs. Rahane continued with his batting form hitting 42 runs in 32 balls.

May 05, Match 48: After four back-to-back defeats, Rajasthan Royals got their act together and humbled Kings XI Punjab by 43 runs in Mohali. Ajinkya Rahane failed with the bat but the Royals got another hero in Shane Watson.

May 08, Match 52: This was only the second time where Ajinkya Rahane failed to open his account. However, Watson blew struggling Pune Warriors India away with a blistering unbeaten 90 runs. Rajasthan Royals won the match by seven wickets.

May 10, Match 56: Chennai Super Kings defeated Rajasthan Royals by four wickets. Rahane failed once again with the bat.

May 13, Match 60: Rajasthan Royals were desperate to arrest the losing slide. They had to win against Pune Warriors India for any chance to qualify for the playoffs - in fact they had to all their remaining games from here on to qualify. Rahane got his act together and scored a valuable 61 runs to help his team achieve a 45-run win over Warriors.

If Rajasthan Royals harbour any chance of reaching the play-offs, they will need Rahane and Watson to keep on going. Ajinkya is just behind Chris Gayle in the top scorers’ list with 541 runs in 14 matches and a strike-rate of 132.27. Nobody has scored more fours (70) than him so far in the IPL-V. With his role model mentoring him at Rajasthan, Rahane seems to have set his sights on emulating the great Wall himself. "I was learning a lot with Mumbai with my idol Sachin Paaji around, but then I wasn't getting many chances. Here in RR, things are different; I had a role to play. There were expectations of me. And I was also happy to be around my other idol, Rahul Dravid. It's a pleasure talking cricket with him," he said.

You won't see Rahane swearing and cursing after reaching a half-century. He is a model of professionalism on the cricket field and it is hard to think of another Indian youngster comparable to him right now.