As Ajinkya Rahane worked his way to a maiden Test century against New Zealand at Wellington yesterday, I couldn't help think about the time when as selector, I had had to reject his pleas to allow him to play for Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers (RCF) in the 2003-04 season.
India's Ajinkya Rahane plays a horizontal bat shot en route his maiden century against NZ on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images
I had to do this with a very, very heavy heart and, to be very honest, that guilt has stayed with me all these years. This 15-year-old was a bundle of talent and would walk into any RCF XI. Yet, I had to say 'NO' every time he said, "Please, sir"!
I could have
Sanjay Patil, former Mumbai left-arm spinner and a very committed administrator – who was my fellow selector that day – was Rahane's mentor.
He had been following my work with youngsters like Aditya Tare, Balwinder Sandhu (Jr), Prashant Bhoir, Subhash Panicker, Siddharth Prasad, Rajiv Mehra and many others and had wished that I could also help mentor young Rahane – especially on the psychological aspect of the game.
However, that season I had been transferred to HR from Sports and had been given additional responsibility of managing the RCF soccer squad. Patil, therefore, requested me not to pick Rahane for the RCF team.
He further believed that the youngster should practice closer to his home (Dombivili – if I am not mistaken) and should not be spending time and energy travelling all the way to Chembur every day.
Rahane had felt slighted and hurt, as did his father who had accompanied him that day. I could see it every time we crossed paths. His mentor knew best and I wanted to tell him the truth but was never in a position to do so.
Rahane had that determined look in his eyes, which champions possess, even at that young age. That very look returned to haunt me on Saturday.
I have watched him batting for his club and for Mumbai on several occasions during the last decade. I can never forget one innings of his at the PYC Club in Pune, in a one-day Ranji match in 2008. That day he clobbered the Maharashtra bowlers, along with Amol Muzumdar, to score a hundred in double quick time.
Rahane has kept the 'khadoos' attitude of Mumbai cricket alive. Last week, when we had a reunion of players who had worked with me, at Chembur Gymkhana, Aditya Tare said, "If any cricketer wants to succeed at the first class level, he should try and emulate Rahane. He puts in 110 percent into everything that he does!"
Austin Coutinho, whose caricature of Ajinkya Rahane, was a stand-by fast bowler for the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team in the early 1980s.