Exclusive | My technique hasn’t changed, mindset has: Ajinkya Rahane
Widely rated as a top India batsman against the moving ball, Ajinkya Rahane has faced some controversial selection calls. In January 2018, he was left out of the eleven for the Cape Town Test against South Africa. He was ignored for the 2019 World Cup, and not considered even as an injury replacement despite India’s struggle to find a dependable No. 4.
Having regained a regular Test spot and proved his value at No. 5 all over again in the last 12 months, Rahane speaks of the pain from the selection blows and finding the inner steel in his game.
We see you are approaching Ranji Trophy with the same intensity as international cricket?
That is how I am. Not only Ranji Trophy, even in age-group cricket, my attitude was like that. Talent is separate, but my work ethic and attitude has brought me success and I never want to lose it. When I was out of the team for two years, it was my attitude which helped me stay in a positive frame of mind.
My close friends supported me but in my room I used to be alone. In those times your thinking matters a lot as your thoughts start reflecting your actions. Whatever I have got is because of the game, so whenever I go on to the field, at whatever level, I give my 100 per cent. If you take this game lightly, it will immediately pull you down.
After you led India in the series-clinching win over Australia in Dharamsala (2017), your position was expected to become untouchable, but it didn’t happen?
After that, the situation was something different. I was only thinking how I should stay calm, whatever happens. I focussed only on the important thing for me—my batting. I have never thought about personal milestones or achievements. Whether my contribution is 50-60, 70-80 or after 100, if I am contributing in important moments, it means I am doing well for the team. My mindset was always that I will only focus on the positives.
How tough was it when you were not being picked in the playing XI in Tests? Were you in despair?
There were moments like that but your mindset in those moments matters a lot. My family members and close friends only said positive things because of which my self-belief grew. I knew I had got runs at every level. When things are not going your way, no one can do anything; when time changes, everything starts clicking. I went over my game and decided that to dominate in international cricket I had to work harder and get better in certain aspects.
It was a surprise not to see your name in the playing XI for the first Test in South Africa (2017-18).
For me to go through that moment was also very difficult. I took about 10-15 minutes to gather myself. After that I thought, ‘no, it’s about the team’. If the team management feels the combination is good, it is.
Cricket is a team sport. It is what I have learnt from my coaches. When you are dropped, you feel bad till a certain time but you have to look at the bigger picture. Whether the combination clicks in that match or not, I must respect the decision of the team management, and I respected it. But somewhere I felt disappointed, especially given my overseas record. In the end, what the team wants is what matters and I have always respected that.
You faced the same situation in your ODI career—not to be in the 2019 World Cup squad must have hurt?
Firstly, in one-dayers my position has always been up and down. Sometimes I have opened and sometimes I have batted at No. 4. I don’t look at my stats that much, but when I was seeing them (recently), I have actually done very well in the last two years. In the West Indies (2016-17), I got a chance to open when Rohit (Sharma) was not there and I got the Man-of-the-Series award (avg 67.20). When we came back to India and both (Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan) were available, I was not played.
Again, when Shikhar was not available, I got to open and performed well against Australia (2017), hitting four half-centuries on the trot. When I’ve got the opportunity at No. 4 also I have done well. So, exactly pata nahin chala ki kya hua hai (Din’t exactly know what happened). My strike rate is also very good; it has been around 88-90 in the last two years.
And my commitment is always there. I have never said I want any particular number. If the opening slot is available I have opened, if No. 4 is available I have done well there. Yes, there’s disappointment at missing the World Cup. It is everybody’s dream, you work hard for it and it is a big moment as a player. Actually, I haven’t understood why I was not in the World Cup team. May be the management felt this combination is the best, and after some time I respected it.
When some injuries happened during the tournament, and I was playing County cricket, at that time also it felt like ‘may be, I will get a chance’. That dream sure was there at that time, to play the World Cup and win it. It is still there and I am working towards winning it. When my name didn’t figure in the World Cup squad, I decided to play County cricket. The two months in County was really beneficial.
It must have been tough to take as the team didn’t have a No. 4 and you were still not picked?
When I have been asked to bat at No. 4, I have done it. That has been my attitude—if the team wants me to bat at No. 4, I will. At the 2016 World Cup, I did well (played one game, semis vs Windies, scoring 40). Yes, it was difficult. Whatever things were happening, they were not in my control so I didn’t want to think much about it. It was there in my mind that if I get an opportunity I should grab it. I was feeling an opportunity could come my way, but it didn’t happen. There was a lot of debate going on for No. 4… personally, there was disappointment that I was not there.
What will you do differently if you get a chance in ODIs?
I will not try to change much because the zone in which I am batting, I will try to stay in it. The starts I get in one-day cricket, how to convert them into big hundreds and how I can play match-winning knocks, that is what is most important, I don’t think technically I can change anything. If you talk about the strike rate, mine has also been good in the last two years. I don’t think I have to change much, whenever I get the opportunities in one-day cricket, I will try and enjoy; back the way I play with intent and instinct and take one game at a time without bothering what can happen in the future.
In the last IPL, the way you batted in the first few games and after the change in captaincy was the complete opposite?
My best game is when I play instinctively and with intent—if you see my best knocks in one-day or Tests. After the change in captaincy in IPL (from Rahane to Steve Smith), I realised there are things in franchise cricket which others can control but no one can stop me from batting. That fire was in me. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. I know how good I am. I just wanted to enjoy my batting and feel good about it from the inside. The hundred (vs Delhi Capitals), after that I realised how I should play my game. Often when you think about the result or the outcome, your game changes.
You have to stay in the present and bat. I spoke to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar and both told me the same thing, ‘you don’t have prove anything to anybody, you have everything… you have scored runs at every level’. If you leave aside the outcome and play on the merit of the ball, you will be able to do what you want to do. Also, I follow the Vedanta philosophy: Swami Parthasarthy tells you that you should be aware of the goal, but when you are training or playing, your mind should be in the present. Automatically you will achieve the goal. It is a very simple philosophy and somewhere its impact has been there on my cricket in the last two years.
Did you decide to move from RR after being replaced as captain?
At that point I didn’t have anything like that in mind. Delhi Capitals wanted me to play for them and I felt there was an opportunity to learn and grow as player. I am thankful to Royals that they gave me an opportunity to play for them for so many years. Whatever happened midseason last year, yes it was disappointing. I have always believed that cricket is a team sport and you don’t lose because of one player’s mistake or win because of one player’s brilliant performance. If you want me to take the blame, okay fine. After that (captaincy) decision happened, I was sitting with a couple of close friends, but didn’t discuss captaincy at all. I decided I know how I should bat and will bat like that. I think aggression, the positive intent which is there in me, it all came out in the right manner that day (vs Capitals).
Did Sourav Ganguly have a chat with you during the World Cup?
It was on the sidelines of India’s World Cup match at Southampton (Rahane played for local county Hampshire) that he asked if I would like to play for DC. I felt it could be an opportunity for me to learn something new as a player under a new coach, grow as a cricketer as we will play on a different wicket. I took some time to decide and said yes.
How important was the offer for your confidence?
It was very important, when a person like Dada approaches you. It boosts your confidence and motivates you, you are aware that despite what had happened at Rajasthan Royals last year, he has approached you.
When a cricketer like him gives you importance and backs you, it gives you motivation. We have seen how as a captain he has backed and developed players. Emotionally, I felt good that a person like him has asked me to play for his team.
Allan Donald says his fear of failure ended after the run out in the 1999 World Cup semis because there can’t be anything worse. Are you mentally tougher having dealt with the setbacks?
Definitely! As a player you go through many phases, sometimes there is a bad patch, some things don’t happen as they should. There are certain things that are not in your control. What you think at that time is important; your mindset slips into negativity. I feel I have gone through all these phases.
After doing well also, I have not been in the team. And a lot of other things which have happened… these are phases and I feel I have gone through them. But these things make you strong from inside, you get an inner strength that whatever challenge comes, you can handle it. All the things get cleared by your thinking. Skill-wise and cricket-wise you work hard, but your path clears through your thinking. This has been my philosophy.
In the Australia series (2018-19), you were in good touch but big scores didn’t happen?
The whole series I batted well. In Adelaide, I got 70-odd, in Perth I got a half-century on a difficult wicket. In Melbourne, Sydney also I got a good start and then got out. The way I was batting, a big knock was around the corner and I was backing myself as I do when I get that feeling. I will not call it a disappointment because we won the series. It was a proud moment to win a Test series in Australia for the first time.
From the away series in West Indies, you have got into a good run. What has changed?
Just the mindset, I don’t think my technique has changed at all. In the two months I spent in County cricket, I realised a lot of things. When I got off days, or after practice, I went for walks, alone or with my wife, or I went for a drive. I used to tell my wife how I used to play cricket earlier, during my under-19 and under-16 days. I was trying to revisit my past, how I was as a player, and compare it to what changes have happened now. I realised I can enjoy my cricket more; unknowingly, you put yourself under pressure when you worry too much about the future.
I decided I will not run after the runs, and just enjoy my batting. In my junior cricket days, I used to bat with intent, and I thought about how I can bat with that approach. Before going to the West Indies, I was at the NCA for 10 days practising with Rahul Dravid. He also said ‘just stay in the present, take every series as a challenge and enjoy that’.
I started that with West Indies. I stopped thinking about the runs and just tried to react to what the situation demanded and play with intent. Intent also means leaving the ball well.
At present, when you play five bowlers, it leaves no margin for error, especially at No. 5 as there is no back-up. How is the challenge?
It is a good challenge as you have an added responsibility with one batsman short. During the West Indies series, twice we were in tough situations where we were three down for 20-odd runs. Against South Africa at Ranchi also we were in a similar situation, so I had to counter-attack. In Pune against South Africa, I got to bat when we had runs on the board; there we had to get a big score. At No. 5, it’s about how you read the situation. You have to alter your game accordingly but play with intent. You need five bowlers to win a Test. And in the World Test Championship, your intent has to be to win every match.
How is it batting with Virat Kohli?
We complement each other. Our communication is good. It’s not that we always discuss cricket, we have normal talk and share jokes also. We share how we feel about our game and back each other—whether one is feeling good to attack or the situation calls for restraint. Our communication every over has been quite good, that’s why we enjoy batting together. Our running between the wickets has also been good.
What is the secret of success of this batting group?
Healthy competition is one thing. It brings the best out of each other. It gives everyone the motivation to do well whenever he gets the opportunity. And there is self-belief, not just about yourself but also the other players that if he gets a chance he will perform well. It has benefitted us a lot.
There are some players in the team who are in-your-face, but you are the opposite and always stay under the radar. Was it difficult to fit in?
Never. The way I’ve played my cricket, I am like that only. What is important for you, you focus on that. How you live and what you do is an individual thing. I know how I have come up from childhood, from which situation.
I understand the reason why I am here today and to respect that is very important. Knowing for what reason you should be in the limelight is important. Your strength as a human being is completely different. If I try to change, my mind will drift. It is important to know what is important and on what you should focus.
You have got a hundred in New Zealand, what will be the challenges in the upcoming tour?
Last time we played Tests there was in 2014, so it will be about adapting to the conditions quickly. You get an idea in the practice games. One think is common, intent. You have to look to dominate. New Zealand have always been a good team. They play well as a team. You can never take them lightly. You have to always take the first step, only if you go on the front foot will the opponent go on the back foot.
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