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Ajinkya Rahane: Dream is to still play India, will grab any opportunity that comes – SBB Times

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Two years ago, around this time, India breached Australia’s fortress – The Gabba – after 32 years to clinch a historic 2-1 Test series win, under the captaincy of Ajinkya Rahane.

With a long list of injuries, India had a challenging job in hand, but with Rahane leading from the front – with a classy century in the second Test in Melbourne – the visiting team never lost hope.

While it was a perfect start to the year for captain Rahane, his form dipped and by January 2022, soon after India’s tour of South Africa, he was left out of the team for red ball cricket.

But the 34-year-old did not lose hope and went back to playing Ranji Trophy for Mumbai. In the ongoing season, leading the 41-time-champion side, Rahane has once again made his presence felt with a 204 against Hyderabad and a 191 against Assam in Mumbai’s previous Elite Group B fixture in Guwahati last week.

A calm and composed Rahane, who’s fondly referred to as  Ajju da by his young teammates, does not want to think too much about his comeback to the Indian team. Rather, he wants to come up with consistent performances for Mumbai and leave the rest up to the selectors.

India’s captain Ajinkya Rahane gives instructions to teammates on day four of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba in Brisbane on January 18, 2021.

India’s captain Ajinkya Rahane gives instructions to teammates on day four of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba in Brisbane on January 18, 2021.
| Photo Credit: AFP

In a free-wheeling chat with  Sportstar after the game against Assam in Guwahati, Rahane spoke about how he dealt with the challenging times and the road ahead.

Q: It’s been two years since India’s historic Test series win against Australia under your captaincy. A lot has changed for you since then.

The Australia series was really special. That series was very close to my heart. Representing the country is obviously a huge deal and also defeating Australia in such circumstances was really special.

As a cricketer, as an athlete, you go through ups and downs every time. It is important to take it in a positive way and look to improve as a cricketer. And, the most important thing is that you should never stop believing in your abilities. That’s who I am; I always believe in myself. It is important to accept that you are going through ups and downs, challenge yourself to come out of that and look to improve every time.

The dream is to still play for India. I just want to be in the moment, learn from my mistakes and whenever an opportunity comes, just grab it.

[File] Mumbai’s Ajinkya Rahane in action during the Mumbai Vs Tamil Nadu Ranji Match at CCI in Mumbai

[File] Mumbai’s Ajinkya Rahane in action during the Mumbai Vs Tamil Nadu Ranji Match at CCI in Mumbai
| Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Q: When chips are down, how does a cricketer of your stature handle that phase?

It is important to understand why we play this sport. I play this sport because I love it and am really passionate about it. I always focus on my process, rather than the result or the outcome. You take any athlete and they go through ups and downs, and between the success and failure ratio, the latter is very high. It is important to be in the present and take care of things that are in your control. When you go through that phase, the support of your family and friends matters a lot.

When you are scoring runs and doing well, the whole world will appreciate your efforts and talk about you. Unwanted people will try to be close to you, but the reality is when you are not doing well, you have to see how many people are actually supporting you. How many people are trying to help you and motivate you? For me, that matters the most.

I am really lucky to have a family, that has supported me throughout my career. Even when I am doing well, they keep me grounded. I have four or five close friends who always support me.

Enjoying success and failure is really important, it’s not about whether you are on a high when success comes your way or very low, when you fail. It is important to enjoy that moment and also learn from those phases.

The support of family and friends is important but at the same time, as an individual, you also need to understand that what are the things you can control, rather than thinking about the result.

Q: You spoke about ‘process’, but what do you exactly mean by that?

The first thing, obviously, is how you prepare yourself skill wise and on the field, how do you handle the conditions. I am playing Ranji Trophy across venues, so it is important to gauge what kind of conditions we are going to get. We need to prepare accordingly.

Mental preparation is the other important aspect. I need to be clear about how my planning should be in terms of my game.

Off the field preparations like what you eat, how you train, what you train are equally important. Your sleeping pattern, your diet plan are all part of the process that I am talking about.

At the end of the day, we only focus on the outcome –  kisne kitna score kiya (who scored how many runs) and all that, but that’s the end product. If you have to play four-day or five-day cricket, following that routine is very important.

These small things – like waking up early, getting ready in time, warm-up even if you have had a bad outing – may look very boring, but in the end, these are the factors that drive you to success. It’s not like you would stop warming up if you are scoring runs. You can’t compromise on your diet or sleeping patterns because being disciplined is very important.  

By process I mean that. It’s about whether I am following the routine properly or not, despite success or failure. There should not be much changes to that and if you can maintain consistency on that front, results will eventually show on the field as well.

[File] Ajinkya Rahane (left) of West Zone during a practice session ahead of the Duleep Trophy semifinals against Central Zone

[File] Ajinkya Rahane (left) of West Zone during a practice session ahead of the Duleep Trophy semifinals against Central Zone
| Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

Q: Around this time last year, you were with the Indian team in South Africa and things weren’t quite going your way. With expectations mounting, how challenging was it to handle things, being far away from home, that too, in a bio-bubble?

I don’t focus too much on what people are talking about or what they expect from me. Obviously, expectations  toh rehne hi walein hain, log batein karne hi walein hain (expectations will remain and people will continue to talk). But, it was important to understand whether my game plan was correct, whether I could stick to it. Also, it was about finding out what went wrong and how to improve.

If you constantly think about the result and the outcome, it automatically adds to the pressure. For me, it is about preparation. I always focus on whether I prepared well ahead of a match, whether I could execute my game plan properly.

If I have been able to do that, then I know that at least, I have handled the basics right and that I am on the right track. Yes, the runs may have not come, but those are by-products, and if I can follow the process right, runs will start flowing.

People will either praise or criticise you, and that’s part and parcel of a sportsman’s life. You need to keep all those things aside and think about what you need to do and what’s important for you. After the day’s play, I come back to the room, think about my game for about 10-15 minutes and try and assess whether I could follow the things I had planned. If those things are right, results will automatically show.

India’s Ajinkya Rahane walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal by South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada during the third day of the second Test at The Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on January 5, 2022.

India’s Ajinkya Rahane walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal by South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada during the third day of the second Test at The Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on January 5, 2022.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Q: How do you switch off and cut out the noise?

I read and listen to music. Whenever a series is on, I am not on social media. My team looks after that around that time. I focus on the tournament and stay away from social media and delete all apps from my phone. I don’t read anything related to sports during those days, and just read books I like, watch movies and talk to my family over phone. I make it a point to cut out the noise and don’t even read whatever is being written about me – be it positive or negative.

When I started playing cricket and eventually broke into the Indian team, social media was not that prevalent. Over the last five-six years, it has become omnipresent, but if you can stick to your old habits and stay away from social media, it does not matter much. I only use it to spread the right message and for the right cause, as and when I feel.

Q: People who have known you since your formative years, speak highly of your work ethics. After playing international cricket for so many years, how do you still manage to maintain your work ethics so promptly?

That’s who I am. I started playing the game as a passion and even after so many years, that hasn’t changed. Even before playing for India and during my Ranji Trophy or U-19 days, I had the same approach. The target was to reach the ground early and be the last one to leave. Back then, we would travel by train, so you had to be punctual or else you’d miss the train and be late for training. Those days taught me to be punctual and how you should reach the ground at least 20-25 minutes before the reporting time.

If you learn something from your formative years, you kind of tend to follow it throughout your career. Even when you play for India, you should not forget your roots and definitely must not change the work ethics that got you so far.

The learning process never stops. It does not matter what format or at what level you are playing, the fact is you are still playing cricket. You have to be sincere and even after playing international cricket for a long time, when you come to the domestic circuit, you cannot have a lackadaisical attitude, nor can you take things easy. The game – whatever be the format – deserves respect and you have to follow it.

Q: The Border-Gavaskar Trophy begins next month, and you won’t be part of the squad for the first two games. After scoring regular runs for Mumbai, how confident are you of making a comeback to the Test squad?

At the moment, my focus is to do well for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy and keep scoring runs consistently. Whatever happens will happen, the results as I said are a by-product. There’s nothing on my mind. Obviously, the dream is to play for India, but if I am doing the right things for Mumbai, that will happen. I am not thinking too much about that. I am following my process, working hard and taking one match at a time rather than thinking far too ahead.

READ: Bumrah misses out, Unadkat included for first two Border-Gavaskar Tests

Q: You will be featuring in the IPL this year for Chennai Super Kings. What are your thoughts?

I am excited to play with Mahi  bhai (MS Dhoni) after a long time. I am happy that CSK got me in the auction and I am sure I will learn many more things from him and other players as well.



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