Ajinkya Rahane is one of the brightest of young Indian talents waiting in the wings to stake a place in the Test and limited-overs teams, having carved an impressive career in domestic cricket.
Though he has played just 12 ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals spread over a year, the 24-year-old batsman is confident of getting opportunities to showcases his talent. With an outstanding first-class - 4924 runs in 53 matches at an average of 63.94 with 18 centuries – Rahane is brimming with confidence and is ready to bide his time before the Test call comes.
He spoke to Cricketnext on a range of topics varying from the IPL, Rahul Dravid and his exclusion from India’s World Twenty20 squad. Excerpts…
Tell us about your first-class debut against Karachi Urban in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy. How were you picked directly for this match without playing any Ranji Trophy cricket
I had performed exceptionally well when India U-19 toured New Zealand in early 2007 with two hundreds. Something about me must have impressed the selectors so they picked me for the Mohammad Nissar Trophy. I ratified their faith by making a hundred on debut and was subsequently picked for the Irani Trophy match against Rest of India.
Which innings in first-class you consider your best?
There a couple of innings of innings I would like to mention. First, the 172 versus England Lions in my first Duleep Trophy against an attack that had international bowlers like Graham Onions, Monty Panesar and Liam Plunkett. That was my first Ranji season and the innings gave me the confidence that I belonged to this level. Then, my unbeaten 265 against Hyderabad which is my highest first-class score till date. I scored over 1000 runs in my first domestic season so the expectations were high from me going into the second season. I failed to score anything substantial in the first few matches and this innings came as a relief. Later, I hit four more hundreds in the season and again notched up over 1000 runs.
When did you start anticipating the national call?
I scored over 1000 runs thrice in my first five seasons so people started to take notice of me. My team-mates told me to not think about external factors and instead to keep working hard. They assured me that they way I was performing, the national call wouldn't be too far.
You did well in your maiden international series, against England in England, and your form was reasonable in the return series. However, apart from 91 at Mohali you failed to convert your starts. Was it frustrating considering in domestic cricket you're known to compile big hundreds?
I gave my best and would have loved to translate my good starts into big scores, but for some reasons I couldn't. Maybe it was my inexperience at the international level. But I learned a lot from this. I evaluated where and how I could have done better and realized that I just need to play my natural game without thinking about the milestones. The focus must be on batting through the innings keeping team's situation in mind.
You were widely regarded as not being a Twenty20 player going into IPL 5, but had a superb season. Previously you were in the Mumbai Indians squads and got limited opportunities. What changes did you make to your batting style that enabled you to excel in 2012?
Mumbai is a very strong side full of prodigiously talented cricketers so I never felt cut up about not getting the chance to play. To me, being in the same team as Sachin paaji and other noted cricketers was a great learning experience. I spoke at length about my batting and how could I be a better batsman. As far as IPL 5 is concerned, Rahul bhai told me to stick to my game and do what comes naturally to me. Of course, Twenty20 cricket demands a few improvisations but apart from that, I just batted the way I always do without trying to do anything radical. The presence of Rahul bhai at the other end also came in handy. He's a great cricketer and an influential leader. He conveys his message in few words and makes youngsters feel very comfortable.
Your happiest memories from IPL 5?
My unbeaten century against RCB. I think it is one of the best innings I've ever played. Hitting Muttiah Muralitharan over the covers while playing inside out will remain enshrined in my memories. Also, my innings against KXIP also gave me immense satisfaction.
You were in tears when Rajasthan Royals lost to Delhi Daredevils by one run. We saw on TV that Dravid was consoling you…
I had batted through the innings and made an unbeaten 84 but couldn't finish the game for my team. We required only 15 runs in two overs yet we lost the match. I wasn't in tears but I admit that I was despondent. Rahul bhai told me that this is all part of the game, that Delhi’s bowlers did eminently well in the last two overs so I shouldn't blame myself for the defeat. He stated that during my career such close matches were bound to happen so sometimes I might end on the losing side. I learned that cricket is variable and that this is a part of its appeal. Sometimes you can't help but feel dispirited after defeat because you've given it your all, but it is vital not to lose composure.
You had been a prolific scorer in domestic cricket for five years with moderate recognition and fame but just a six weeks in IPL 5 made you a household name …
This is a parochial view. I think you're missing the bigger picture here. Every young cricketer has to, and must, go through the grind. It makes you respect and value the game and success more. It thwarts complacency. At least this is how I look at it and feel about it. In no way is domestic circuit less significant than the IPL. The years of hard work I put into those years is paying off now. Most of the people only see success and overlook tons of unflagging diligence. I never believed that there's anything called 'overnight success'. Success is a perpetual term, not momentary. Had I not slogged in my formative years, I couldn't have achieved what I have. I think I've become a better batsman after years of painstaking persistence. I can improvise and adapt myself according to different situations, pitches and formats.
Despite a dazzling IPL you were left out of the Indian squad for the World Twenty20. In Sri Lanka you got just one ODI. How disappointed were you?
I'm a very positive person who looks at the brighter side of the life. At a young age I've represented my country and people have noticed and complimented my talent. Not many people are as fortunate as I am. I'm just 24 and there'll be ample chances for me in the future to cement my place in the team.
The Irani Trophy is considered a big opportunity to book a place in India’s Test team, and with visits by England and Australia lined up you must be keen to do well?
The Irani Trophy is indeed a big match. It showcases the best talent in India and the selectors consider runs scored and wickets taken in this match. In last year’s Irani Trophy against Rajasthan I scored 152 and that innings helped me get selected in India’s Test squad, so I am definitely looking at the upcoming match in Bangalore against the same opposition. I’m geared up to do well and hopefully stay in India’s Test squad.