Many Indian batsmen battle to change the perception they can’t perform outside the continent, but it was the opposite for Ajinkya Rahane. Having established his credentials outside India, with counter-attacking centuries at Lord’s and Melbourne, he had to quickly make an impact at home. Ahead of the Delhi Test against South Africa, in his first full series at home, a few had questioned Rahane’s technique in home conditions.
Two masterful centuries (127 & 100*) settled that argument. In this interview, Rahane dissects his game, and the mental preparation that has made him such a key player. Excerpts:
How badly did you want to change the perception about your batting at home?
Before the Tests, I was doing well in the ODI series. I wasn’t forcing myself, I was not desperate. I was making a conscious effort to stay in the moment. May be just shot selection, may be mental discipline, I was thinking about that before Delhi. A couple of days earlier, me and (batting coach) Sanjay Bangar went to the nets in Nagpur. I batted for two hours to get that mental discipline back. In Delhi, I just carried out that intent and discipline. Delhi holds a special place for me as I made my debut there.
How different were the two centuries?
They were pretty different. In the first innings, we were 139/6 and I was visualising my Lord’s hundred (103 off 154 balls) at the crease, my mindset and communication with my partner at that time. With Ashwin and Jadeja, I had good partnerships. Before that I and Virat had a 70-run stand, so partnerships were important.
In the second innings, we were 57/4 but the lead was 270/80 and we wanted to play for time with almost 2-1/2 days left. Virat was batting at a good speed, so I thought I should take my time, build a partnership and give as much strike as possible to him. So, that evening (Day 3) discipline was the key. The next morning, I told Virat to take his time as he was batting on 83; I was going to take my chances as I was striking the ball really well. The mental discipline, in the first innings and in the first half of the second innings, helped me score the hundreds.
What is your strength against spin?
I play late and use my footwork, but the basic thing is you have to trust your defence.
But twice in Mohali you got out jabbing at the ball?
I learnt from my mistakes. After that Test, we had two days off so I came to Mumbai. For two days, for two hours each, I only worked on my defence to get the habit back, the soft-hand defence. Later, I did a few more sessions, specifically to sharpen my defence. It gave me a lot of confidence.
You often talk about improving your game.
Taking control of the game is very important for me. Also dominating, not just by playing shots, it can be done by defending. No bowler likes it when the batsman is defending properly, no fast bowler will like that. And it’s a mind game. You have to read your opposition’s mind, where they are going to bowl.
How good are you at reading a bowler’s mind?
I visualise the day before the match. I spend 30-40 minutes visualising, which bowler I am going to face; that has helped me counter their mindset. Sometimes, bowlers set a field but bluff you -- they push the fielder on the boundary and you expect a bouncer but they will bowl a fuller length. Through visualisation, you have to counter that. I am learning that.
Did you learn that from someone or are you self-taught?
I have been visualising since my U-16, U-19 days, but I spoke to Sachin paaji and Rahul bhai. They told me visualisation is the key. If you visualise, almost 80-90 % of the time things will happen like that. Everyone has almost the same basic technique, but if you are strong in your head, you will go to the top level.
Many play a few deliveries in the mind before going to bat.
I have experienced that, especially at the MCG (147 off 171 balls). Before going in to bat, I was sitting in the dressing room with pads on. I was thinking what shots I was going to play against certain bowlers, how I was going to dominate them. That’s exactly how it went off. Communication was also the key. I told Virat: ‘I feel like going after them because I have already visualised I am going to play these kinds of shots’. (Rahane had a 262-run stand with Kohli (169).
Shot-making is glorified, what does defending mean to you?
It is as good as hitting a boundary or six. You get the feeling that the bowler is unhappy you left a very good ball, or defended it. Sometimes bowlers are happy when you hit a boundary or six, they want you to play some shots.
When do you feel you are set?
If I am defending well, I feel my balance is right. If I play that straight drive --- my favourite drive is between mid-off and mid-on or between the bowler and mid-on --- then I feel my balance is right. And I need to play close to my body, that’s when I feel I’m in a good zone.