When the selectors announced the 17-man squad for the ODI series against South Africa next month, it came up with a big surprise. And it was nothing but the exclusion of KL Rahul from the squad, once again, despite the rich vein of form he was in during the recently concluded T20I series against Sri Lanka.

Instead, the selectors have opted to go with Ajinkya Rahane—a player who has been totally out of form in the longer formats—as the third opener or more appropriately the back-up opener in the squad. Moreover, Rahane hasn’t got any game time in the shorter formats in recent times. So, the selectors’ decision seems to be a bit perplexing considering the recent performances of both the players.

The question is more about how a player like Rahul—deemed good enough to be a part of the Test and T20I squads—doesn’t fit into the ODI outfit. Test and T20I formats are exactly polar opposites of each other. So, if a player is deemed good enough to play in both of those formats, it is more than a logical thing to say that he will do well in the ODIs also which has elements of both the polar extreme formats of the game.

This is not the first time that Rahul has been overlooked as an asset for the ODI format. It happened in the recently concluded ODI series against Sri Lanka as well. He was axed from the squad following a string of low scores batting in the middle order in the previous couple of ODI series against England and Sri Lanka.

Rahane, on the other hand, had made a case for selection in the ODI formats with some impressive performances in the home series against Australia at home and West Indies in away conditions in India’s regular opener Shikhar Dhawan’s absence. Hence, those performances played a crucial role in his selection as a back-up opening option ahead of Rahul in the ODI series at home against Sri Lanka and also for the series in South Africa.

But, isn’t Rahul’s axing from the ODI squad bit harsh considering his limited overs abilities and recent form? Yes, he failed on six consecutive occasions to prove himself as a middle order batsman in two back to back series against England at home and Sri Lanka in away conditions. But, was it right to judge an opener as a middle order batsman on the basis of some bad outings? Especially, when he has proved himself as a middle order batsman in the IPL playing for the Royal Challengers Bangalore?

It wasn’t right obviously. But, still the selectors opted to mark him down as an out and out opener. Meanwhile, Shreyas Iyer came and grabbed his opportunity in the ODI format with a couple of blistering knocks. That made it further difficult for Rahul to grab a place in the middle order or to even find his name in the ODI squad.

As far as T20Is are concerned, it was Rahul’s big hitting ability that put him ahead of Rahane in the race for the position of a back-up opener. In case of Test Cricket, there isn’t any competition for that position as well since Rahane is deemed to be a middle order batsman in that format.

However, despite Rahane performing well in the as an opener in the ODI series against Australia and the Windies, it is wise enough to say that Rahul is a far better limited overs player than him. The shorter formats have become totally different as compared to what they used to be five years ago. A batsman scoring at a strike rate of 75-80 was still useful back then. But, such scoring rate cannot match with the pace of modern day limited overs cricket.

Rahane is someone who struggles to score at more than a run-a-ball. And his inability to up the tempo of the innings is exactly why he doesn’t quite fit into the limited overs scheme of things. Rahane scored runs at impressive averages of 67.20 and 48.80 in the ODI series against the Windies and Australia. However, it was his strike rate—77.06 and 82.71 against West Indies and Australia respectively—that weren’t impressive at all.

Rahul, on the other hand, is perfectly capable of fitting into the modern day limited overs scheme of things. He has proved his fast scoring abilities again and again through his T20 performances. Moreover, it is Rahane’s poor form even in Test cricket for which Rahul deserves a place ahead of him in every format.

The South Africa tour is probably the last chance for Rahane to reinstate his worth once again and justify his selection in the ODIs ahead of Rahul. It remains to be seen if he can repay the faith of the selectors with good performances in those grueling conditions. Moreover, it also remains to be seen whether the selectors would think beyond him if he fails to perform there as well. If they do, Rahul is the best option to look forward to. His exclusion from the ODI squad in recent times has been baffling and the selectors should make amends for that sooner rather than later.