Ajinkya Rahane exclusive interview: Cricketer opens up on his struggle, inspiration, success mantra

Jul 05, 2018, 11:28 IST | Noel D'Souza

In a new dialogue series between sports heroes and fans, Ajinkya Rahane opens up to young cricketers about being a true contributor to the nation

Ajinkya Rahane exclusive interview: Cricketer opens up on his struggle, inspiration, success mantra
Rahane with cricketers from Chembur's Children Aid Society along with their coach (extreme right) and fans Alston Thevar (extreme left) and Jayesh Kulkarni (blue jacket). Pics/Rane Ashish, Pradeep Dhivar

The Indian cricket team's vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane kicked off the first edition of Meet Your Icon — mid-day's brand new dialogue series between sports stars and a select group of budding players. Rahane, currently gearing up for the much-awaited five-match Test series against England beginning on August 1 in volatile English conditions, made a pit stop at the mid-day office in Bandra east, stone's throw away from the Mumbai Cricket Association's BKC nets, where he practices regularly.

Known as a man of few words, Rahane, this time, took a select live audience by storm, opening up on his initial struggle in cricket, how his father was an inspiration and his success mantra in life — enjoy the game and the rest will follow. The 40-minute chat kept everyone hooked and it was a no-brainer to say that the first edition of Meet Your Icon was a huge hit!

Ajinkya Rahane in conversation with mid-day's Noel D'Souza during the first edition of Meet Your Icon at this newspaper's office in Bandra
Ajinkya Rahane in conversation with mid-day's Noel D'Souza during the first edition of Meet Your Icon at this newspaper's office in Bandra

Edited excerpts from the conversation:

Barring your presence on the field, very few have heard your voice go beyond 0.001 decibel. Is that the person you are; calm and composed?
Frankly, I do not like to waste my energy off the field. I am really cool and calm. I learnt karate. I am a black belt in judo. For me, it was all about showing my intent and action on the field, rather than off it. I know how to use my energy in crunch or challenging situations and I always believe that if I stay calm, I can perform and concentrate better.

Were you the same when you were younger?
Yes, I was a bit shy. I am still shy (laughs), but karate and cricket taught me that it is important that I keep learning each and every day, be it in my practice sessions or during tournaments. In cricket, you learn from practice and matches, so staying cool off the field helps me on it. I ensure I give my best while batting and fielding. I think that my thought process actually gets better while doing this.

Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane

So you were never this brash, violent kid that would once in a way unleash himself?
Never.

Then how do you vent?
Definitely, as a human being you get frustrated and angry, but I like to show my aggression with my batting. In that way, I can perform and think much better. Suppose, something happens and you get angry, and then in that anger, you do something wrong, it's a waste of time and energy. Then you realise, I have committed a mistake. So when you get angry or frustrated, just stay calm, listen to music, read a book or something. It's a matter of five minutes and your anger goes away. I am really lucky that I picked up this technique during my younger days when I was learning karate. My father always said I need to use my energy in the right direction.

Was cricket always your passion? Tell us about your tryst with the game.
I started playing cricket in Dombivli. I used to play with a tennis ball along with my building mates. There were many complaints about broken windowpanes. One day, my father and a neighbour discussed my technique. In fact, my neighbour told my father that my technique looked really good and I should enrol in an academy. My intention was to go out and play any sport rather than thinking about achieving something. I just wanted to go out and play so that my mind was busy. When you play a sport, not only cricket, you learn so many things in general about life.

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What was your routine like?
My routine initially was cricket practice in the morning, then in the afternoon, I had school and in the evening, I had karate classes.

How did you pave your path to the Mumbai Ranji team?
I started my cricket coaching at Dronacharya Cricket Club in Dombivli. My first coach was Mr Khatu. There were U-14 selection trials. I was nine or 10 at that time. During a tournament in Worli, I was representing Thane district and we went for the selections. I hardly faced four to five balls and they told me to come out [of the nets]. Later, they told me that I was selected. I was really happy, but after five minutes, they told me that I was out. The reason they said was that I was still young and there are guys who are 13 or 14 and they should get a chance. I could wait. I don't know what happened after that, but one of the coaches went to the selectors and told them that my technique looked really good and they should keep me in the team. He also tried to explain to them that keeping me out would affect me.

What was going on inside your mind?
I really do not know. I was just relaxing and talking to my father. I will always remember this incident. I do not know how to put it, but when my father was sitting with one of the parents, he overheard that parent talking to some other guy. He said, 'Yeh ladka kya khelega, yaar. Is mein kuch dikhayi nahin de raha hai. Itna chhota dikh raha hai. [What will this kid play? He does not have anything to show and he is very young]'. My father did not say a word. Then, one of the coaches went up to the selector and told him that they will keep me in the team. Luckily, I was in. Then, thank God, during my first game, one of our opening batsmen got injured and I got an opportunity and won the Man of the Match award in my first game itself. The journey started from there.

Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane

How important is it to grab opportunities with both hands?
Definitely, it's very important, but for me, it was all about enjoying myself and having fun on the field. Now, this is important, because sometimes, when you think about the result, you put pressure on yourself. Life is easy, but we put pressure on ourselves. We sometimes run after success and results. We do not think about the
simple things.

It must have been a lot of fun...
I play cricket because it's my love and passion. While batting, you should not forget to enjoy each and every ball. The same applies when you are defending, leaving the ball and playing any shot — you should enjoy it and not think about scoring a hundred, fifty, 150 or whatever. If you begin thinking on those lines, then you are thinking about a result and start putting pressure on yourself. Sport is all about going out there and enjoying oneself.

What about your first Ranji Trophy season?
It was not that great. They [selectors] were thinking about dropping me, but I want to thank Pravin Amre sir [Mumbai coach]. He really backed me in my first season. From my second season onwards, I did really well. Because of my Ranji Trophy performance, I got the opportunity to represent my country. That's why Ranji Trophy is so special. Every youngster, whatever state they represent, has to give importance to domestic cricket, especially Ranji Trophy cricket.

But with T20s coming into the mix, how can an upcoming cricketer give that due importance to domestic cricket?
It's important to keep it simple; important to focus on whatever format you are playing. If your basics are strong, you can play in any format. If you are only thinking about T20 cricket, then it's challenging to get back to four or five-day cricket.

Ajinkya Rahane autographs a mid-day diary at the event
Ajinkya Rahane autographs a mid-day diary at the event

How did you bounce back after going through a bad phase in your first Ranji season?
I was really nervous. I did well during my U-19 days for Indian Oil. Then, in the second year, Pravin sir and I had a chat. He told me to focus on my controllables, keep working hard and not worry about anything else. For me, Ranji Trophy was something different after coming from U-17 and U-19. My intention was to just work hard. Attitude and work ethics are very important for a sportsperson; those small things matter a lot. So, from the second year onwards, my focus was to just bat, bat and bat. I tried to learn each and everything from every cricketer.

What was going on in your mind? Was it a mix of emotions?
You should know what your strengths are. Yes, Pravin sir, Wasim Jaffer, all of them discussed my batting with me and the one thing they told me was to enjoy my batting. Sometimes, when you are in a pressure situation, it's natural to doubt yourself. We tend to think about so many things. For me, it's all about serving. I am representing India, so my aim is to serve my country rather than think about scoring a hundred. My aim is to contribute to my country's cause. If you are selfless and focus on your team rather than yourself, results will automatically follow.

What do you remember of your international debut in 2011?
I made my debut in the T20 format at Manchester, but let me tell you about the day I got the news of my selection. I was at home and got a phone call from BCCI about being selected. I went and told my mom. She was very emotional at that time and was lost for words. She hugged me because she knew I had worked really hard for those five to six years in domestic cricket. Manchester gave me the biggest moment to represent my country in the shorter format.

You have a great overseas record and Virat Kohli called you a gem when it comes to overseas matches.
Before any series or tour, I do my preparation and keep it very simple. In England, the conditions change within 15 to 20 minutes. It all depends on the weather, but playing close to your body in England, playing as late as possible and having the patience to wait for that loose ball is very important. My practice sessions at BKC were all about focusing on playing late and playing close to my body.

Has the constant shuffling of your batting position in limited overs cricket affected you?
No, I am at all worried. I know I can come back [into the limited overs squads] and I know how to make a comeback. I believe that if I am confident and my intentions are right, it will just be a matter of time. It's all about believing in yourself rather than focussing on what people say. I do not read newspapers. I work on my controllables and practice hard.

Your life has been full of challenges. How do you cope with obstacles?
I always feel that one should enjoy every moment in life. There should not be any fluctuation. Unknowingly, we all, as human beings, try to capture everything, but it's not that. Life is all about giving. We should learn from each and every person even if they are junior or senior to you. There should be no ego clashes. Give more than your 100 per cent to what you have been called to do and enjoy success and failure at the same time.

Also Read: Did you know these Mumbai boys became captains of the Indian cricket team?

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