More than 400 days have elapsed since Ajinkya Rahane earned the right to print the words ‘International Cricketer’ on his calling card. It was a reward for his prolific run on the domestic circuit. Rahane’s grand returns in the Indian Premier League this year (560 runs and fourth leading run-getter) commanded plenty of attention too.
Although the 24-year-old hasn’t always found himself in the Indian XI, his reputation as one of the country’s brightest talents has never been in doubt. Following a steady start to the season, the Mumbai batsman is determined to maximise his potential.
He speaks about dealing with omissions, comparisons with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, playing orthodox strokes in T20 cricket, and his admiration for Rahul Dravid, in an interview with The Hindu recently.
At a time when your career was progressing reasonably well, how disappointing was it to be omitted for the tri-series in Australia and the Asia Cup?
There are always ups and downs in a professional sportsman’s career. It depends on how you deal with it. I look at it as a challenge. My family has always taught me to remain balanced. If you respect the game, it gives you respect in return.
On the other hand, does being in the squad and not getting a game affect your performance?
Selection is not in my hands. During the Australia tour (where he was part of the Test squad) and when the West Indies came to India, the focus was to learn as much as I could from seniors like Sachin (Tendulkar) paaji, Rahul (Dravid) bhai — who are my role models — and (V.V.S.) Laxman bhai. The process of learning never stops.
When you watch your peers such as Kohli and Pujara establishing themselves in the Indian team, does it make you feel insecure?
Firstly, I am very happy for both of them. They are very good cricketers and have made fine contributions to the Indian team. I can only control my performance and that will take me forward. I need to compete only with myself.
How much has your approach to cricket changed over the years?
Each game is a learning process. I make small adjustments based on the situation. But my natural game hasn’t changed.
Memories of your debut series in England?
Frankly, I was very nervous during my debut. Sachin paaji asked me to enjoy myself and think that everyone was supporting me. The 91 against England in Mohali later that year was satisfying.
For someone in the classical mould, was there a sense of irony in how you shot to fame with the IPL? Did you have to change your batting style to adapt to the T20 format?
I think I got due recognition even when I wasn’t playing the IPL. Obviously, I have benefited from domestic cricket as well as the IPL. Before the beginning of IPL-V, I discussed my batting with Rahul bhai. He asked me not to change my game. I also realised that Sachin paaji and Rahul bhai were successful in this format by playing proper cricket strokes.
So I never thought about extravagant strokes and only concentrated on minor improvisation. There was purposeful practice for about two months before the IPL and, thankfully, the results were good.
Rajasthan Royals and Rahul Dravid.
Rajasthan Royals has a good mix of senior players and youngsters. This year Rahul bhai ensured there was a healthy environment in the dressing room. For me, the century I scored against Royal Challengers in Bangalore was special. As soon as I went back to the dressing room, Rahul bhai gave me a tight hug and said, “I am very proud of you. You will definitely go on to do well.”
He’s someone whom I have looked up to all my life and to receive such a compliment from him was very pleasing. Shane Watson was very supportive too.
The goals you have set for yourself.
I hope to improve my game and take it match by match. I can’t put a number on the runs that I want to score. Most importantly, I need to enjoy my game.
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