It’s easier to see Ajinkya Rahane of today, the calm, collected, and composed version, and assume that a sporting life with its constant state of flux, with failures ever present around the corner, have always been easy for him to handle.
It obviously couldn’t have been that easy. And it wasn’t.
After years of toil in domestic cricket, and living on the fringe of national team, he froze when the opportunity came in his first Test. Two failures in the Test against Australia in March 2013 , six years after his first-class debut, had left him anxious.
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“The Test cap, home crowd and my desire to do make that opportunity count, had left me too anxious. There is always nervousness in a sportsman, and especially more so before the first Test but in my desire to do well, I had let the anxiousness levels go far too high,” he said in a media interaction on Wednesday.
His personal batting coach Pravin Amre recalled the nervy weeks after that game. “People do forget that here was a young man trying to make a career. I remember how frustrated he would get at times during the years of domestic cricket when the opportunity didn’t come.” Amre had just gone to Pune to meet Swami Parthasarathy, a philosopher and exponent of Vedanta, an ancient philosophy of India, and thought he might just do the trick for Rahane, especially as Parthasarathy used to be an active cricketer too. “I liked him in our first meeting,” Rahane said. “He thought how to achieve an ideal mindset. Look, how many thoughts flood our minds every instant. And in batting, you want as few thoughts as possible.
Even trying to stop thoughts is a thought of course but you have to minimise them as much as possible. These days I just stay in the moment. When batting, I deal ball by ball, and don’t think too far ahead. And also off the field in life.
Don’t chase runs
“Swami told me one thing. Jo cheez aapko paani hai, uske baare mey socho hi mat. (Don’t think about the things you want to achieve.) Just let go. Don’t fret. Don’t think I have to go get runs, do something. Unnecessary pressure. You leave it, let it go and magically, they come to you. More you run after stuff, more they run away from you.”
He also started reading beyond sports books. Like the life of Shivaji. “I read Shivaji Maharaj, his leadership qualities. What was his thought process and how he was 10 steps ahead of his oppositions. It’s important to know about our history. And what made these people tick, what special traits they had?
They sound simple and it’s sort of stuff everyone hears in life but Parthasarathy gave Rahane practical methods to minimise thoughts. Little things crept into his mental routine and slowly the tide started to turn. “And so when I went to South Africa, I was in a very positive frame of mind, and was actually very confident about myself.” He says similar stuff when asked about pushed to No.3 position in Sri Lanka. “ If you think negatively, negative things will happen. Our thoughts are very powerful. It’s important what kind of thoughts you have, how you control them. I focus on what my team needs from me. And when you do well, going out of your comfort zone, that challenge gives me great happiness.”
His background has helped a lot he says, values that he learned from his “mummy, papa”. “Their sacrifices for me. My papa would take me in his cycle to school or to practice. There was no money to go in auto. They would fore-go their own personal expenses and give me. I used to play with same socks in a few practice sessions. Now when I am playing for India and doing well, I always go back to that background and remember the values.
‘A normal human being’
“Apart from cricket, I am just a normal human being. After retirement, I know I will go back to being a normal human being. then why should I be different. It’s important that you remain as a normal human being. People are going to recognise you are around the world as a cricketer but its important. If the people say yeh aadmi bahut accha hai, that’s important and enough for me. That’s my focus.”
It’s not as if Rahane hasn’t set goals and dreams. He says he has just learned how to weave all that in to a philosophy that accommodates those dreams without putting too much pressure on himself. So what’s his dream? Asked if he wanted to be quoted in the brackets of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Laxman, he shakes his in affirmative.
“My goal is to become the world’s best batsman. I want to be India’s best and world’s best. I want to be the biggest matchwinner for India.” And a nice simple guy.