Growing up in Mumbai, Ajinkya Rahane (28) used to play cricket in his neighbourhood as a kid. Today, he has become one of the leading batsmen in the Indian cricket team. We met the reticent cricketer at the Mumbai Cricket Association recreation centre in Bandra (E) a few days ago. He took time off from his practise session to chat with us about his career.
What was your first reaction when you learnt of your selection in the Indian cricket team?
I was at home when I got a call from the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). I was completely blank for a couple of seconds. I told my mother about it. We were very happy. I had already played domestic cricket for about six years. My ultimate goal was to represent my country. I played my first T-20 game in England in 2011. Sachin (Tendulkar), MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag were part of that team. I was shy and nervous. But they made me feel comfortable. They gave me the confidence to express myself.
Was cricket always a passion?
Sachin and Rahul Dravid are my role models, not only for their cricketing abilities, but also for the people they are off the field. My father always told me, “Once you become a celebrity or a popular figure, everyone will recognise you. But it is important to be a good human being.”
What would you have chosen as your profession had you not become a cricketer?
My father used to say, “Your body will be active if you pursue a sport.” I have a black belt in judo, and I’ve always loved playing cricket. I could have been in the air force; that’s another passion. But cricket is my first love.
How did you start playing cricket?
I used to play in my society, like all the other boys. One of my neighbours told my father that my batting technique was good. I was eight. My father sent me for selection trials [for domestic matches], and I got selected for the next round. That’s how it began.
What do you think of the sporting culture in India?
It’s a good sign that other sports are also getting recognition now. There are football, badminton and kabaddi leagues. People are also backing other sports.
Do you have a favourite Bollywood actor?
My all-time favourite is Aamir Khan. Whenever I get the time, I like to watch Hindi films. I am a movie buff.
How important is publicity for a sportsperson?
As a celebrity, you can help spread socially relevant messages. Earlier, I didn’t pay attention to this. But now, I’ve realised that it is important.
Earlier this year, England set a world record in one day international (ODI) cricket by scoring 444 runs against Pakistan. How soon do you think India will beat that record?
I don’t know when we will reach there, but I am sure the team will cross that score some day. We all know it (cricket) is a batsman’s game. Our long-term goal is to be the number one team in the world.
How do you deal with the pressure that comes with being a cricketer?
Pressure is just a word. It is how you take it. I always take it in a positive and a challenging way. Pressure can either bring the best out of you or take you down. Whenever I feel I am under pressure, or a bit nervous, I perform better.
Who has been your closest confidant in the team?
Rohit (Sharma) and I are really close. Virat (Kohli) and I are close too.
You have been married for two years. How did you meet your wife, Radhika Dhopavkar?
We used to live in the same society. We first connected on Orkut and then on Facebook. When we met for the first time, I didn’t know what to say. I was very shy. But my wife loves to talk, so it was easier. Our partnership has been good. She’s understanding and supportive. I am lucky to have her in my life.