Why Ajinkya Rahane: A packed calender awaits the Indian team as they get ready to play 13 Tests this home season against New Zealand, England, Australia and Bangladesh. One of India’s most dependable players and vice-captain of the Test team, Rahane’s performance will be crucial. His runs in the middle-order, close-in catching and inputs in the team huddle will help decide if Virat Kohli can maintain India’s formidable record at home. In a team full of aggressive stroke-makers, he provides the all-important calming influence.
SRIRAM VEERA: As a child, you travelled for long hours on Mumbai locals to play cricket. When did you start believing that you could make it as a cricketer?
My day began at 5.30 am. I got on to the train at around 6 am, travelling from Dombivali to CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and then to Azad Maidan. I spent around two to three hours, and sometimes even more, just travelling. I walked from CST to Azad Maidan carrying my kitbag, and returned the same way. I was very passionate but I never thought about what I wanted to do, never planned anything. Obviously I had goals, I wanted to represent the country… Being passionate is important, it takes you places. Travelling for long hours on local trains in Mumbai made me mentally tough. People (on the train) helped me a lot. They made place for me to sit, keep my bag. Sometimes while travelling early in the morning, I would doze off before my stop. People would wake me up and tell me that we had arrived at the CST station. A lot of people have supported me.
I still remember that journey, it will always be with me. Often we forget the people and situations that brought us to to where we are now, the present day… We need to respect it.
ROHIT ALOK: So what did you do while travelling?
These days there are iPods etc, back then there was the Walkman. On trains, however, there is a lot of singing. People heading to office would sing songs in groups and it felt really good to listen to them and be in that atmosphere. I didn’t have a Walkman then, and I was also quite young. I remember I was eight when I started travelling by train. For the first two-three days, my father came with me, but he had his office to go to and so he couldn’t come every day. One day, he dropped me to Dombivali station and told me that I had to travel on my own. He was in the compartment behind me and followed me to CST to see if I could manage. He came all the way to CST and then went back to Dadar, where his office was, the B.E.S.T. office.
From then on, he was assured that I could travel alone. These days parents are hesitant to leave their children alone. But I think it is important to take that risk. Also we didn’t have any other option, we couldn’t take a cab or go by car.
BHARAT SUNDARESAN: There is this story about you that when you were 10, you were batting before a 25-year-old fast bowler, who was also a waiter in a restaurant near the ground. Do you have any memories of that incident?
Oh yes, I still remember it. I was obviously quite short then and the ball had hit my helmet. It hurt a lot. Everyone gathered around me because I was a kid. The opponents told me that this is not a sport for me and asked me to go back to the dressing room. I didn’t say anything then, but I thought that I have travelled such a long distance and I have just this one opportunity, and if I come across as weak, then I might not be selected to play in a match. So I figured that this was the only opportunity I had and that it would do me good to just perform well.
I think a certain attitude matters. I was determined that I wanted to do something noteworthy. I didn’t know what would happen on the next ball, but a fighting attitude was important. So I hit five boundaries in the next five balls. My opponents and that same bowler appreciated it.
BHARAT SUNDARESAN: And that relationship with bouncers has continued… Australia’s Peter Siddle’s ball hit your helmet in your debut match, and then there was the famous duel with Dale Steyn in South Africa.
I remember the Siddle incident, it was in my first game. And then there was Steyn… I remember I had become quite determined and motivated by then. After I got hit by the bouncer, we had come in for lunch. I didn’t eat anything, I was just sitting and thinking about the kind of impression I needed to give… how I was going to dominate. In a match you need to make a statement before your opponents. I was thinking of how I can hit back. I was batting with Virat Kohli at the time and he told me to just attack. Which is what I did after lunch and my confidence kept increasing after that. As a batsman, you need to find a rhythm, and I found mine then.
SRIRAM VEERA: You are into meditation as well. How did that happen?
I started meditating when I was playing in the U-16 (Under-16) or U-17. No one had asked me to do it then, but I used to sit by myself quietly for 10-15 minutes. Then my grandfather, who practised yoga, told me to start doing yoga and meditation as it would help me in the game. It helps otherwise too. In life, every person is confronted with difficult situations, when they must stay calm and make good decisions. Even now I try and spend 20-30 minutes meditating in the morning.
ROHIT ALOK: Are you superstitious?
I used to be superstitious up until my Ranji Trophy career began, but later I realised that superstitions only increase problems. You have to keep a lot of details in mind if you’re superstitious — what exactly you did on a particular day, whether you wore the left shoe first or the right, whether you wore the left pad first or the right one. Say, if you made 100 runs on a day, then to achieve it again you have to repeat the same routine the next day. As a batsman, sometimes you have to bat as soon as you’re done fielding, and there isn’t much time. In such a situation, if by mistake you forget what you were supposed to do, it affects you psychologically and hampers your performance.
I have realised that routines are better than superstitions. If I wear the left shoe first, I will continue to wear the left shoe first. If ever I don’t manage to stick to my routine, it doesn’t eat me up mentally. I changed my superstitions to routines. Superstition can’t help you make a hundred runs or be successful.
SMITA NAIR: We know Rahane the cricketer, but what’s your day like at home?
Whenever I’m in Mumbai, after half a day of practice, I make sure that I spend quality time with my wife and parents. Sometimes we go for a movie, sometimes for dinner. It is important to spend time with family, since I’m out for a large part of the year, around 10 months. So it’s important to switch off every once in a while. At home, I am very normal and relaxed. I spend time with my friends. We watch good movies… It is a normal life.
Also, everyday I spend about 20 minutes reflecting on the day. I write down stuff I want to improve upon in a notebook.
TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA: How do you handle the fans when you are out of your house?
Earlier, my wife would annoyed sometimes, when we went out shopping etc. She wanted me to spend time with her. But now she has realised that my fans and my sport make me who I am. Whatever I am today, it is because of cricket and because of my fans. Often the time that I should be spending with my wife and family is encroached upon by my fans. But I’ve never thought of it as a nuisance. I have told my wife that I like it when my fans ask for my autograph or take pictures with me… They hardly get to see you in real life, they only see you on television. So I enjoy the experience.
SRINATH RAO: Have you ever had an unusual request from a fan?
No, not yet… also since most of my outings are with my wife, that is unlikely! However, many fans advise me on my performance on the field — you shouldn’t have played a pull shot etc. I listen to what they have to say, and if I feel it is valid, then I consider it.
BHARAT SUNDARESAN: You have often said that you are a shy person. Have you consciously tried to change that about yourself?
I used to be very shy. If guests came over, I used to hide behind the sofa. I didn’t interact with people a lot, spoke very little. But as my cricketing career grew, I realised that it is important to talk to people. You meet all kinds of people, and the more you talk, the better it is. In the process, you also become a good judge of character… So it is important to mix with people. After marriage, I changed significantly. My wife always corrects me. She talks more than I do. Even at home, I don’t talk much. But it is important to be involved and have knowledge about everything.
SRIRAM VEERA: Is that why you started learning karate? To get over your shyness?
No. I started learning karate because I didn’t want to sit at home. I didn’t want to sit and watch TV and waste time at home. In the mornings and afternoons, I had cricket practice, and in the evening I went to karate classes. My only intention was to go out and play sports so that my body could get fitter. During my black belt exam, they broke 10 sugarcane sticks on my stomach and back. I had to break 50 roof slates with my head. Fifty people jumped on my stomach continuously as well. They evaluated how tough we were mentally. It is natural to feel scared before doing stuff like this, but it helped me a lot.
SRINATH RAO: How do you handle sledging?
Basically, they (the opposition) want a reaction… They check if I have a reaction to what they say. Their intention is to disturb my mind, my focus. I don’t react to them. I only look at them, stare or smile at them sometimes. Everyone has a different way of dealing with it. Virat (Kohli), for instance, gets motivated by being aggressive, he might talk back to the bowlers. It helps him. I am the opposite. It helps me to keep calm or just stare at them to motivate myself. But if someone says something to me, then definitely I feel more motivated; it becomes a challenge.
ROHIT ALOK: Have you sledged?
I don’t sledge. That’s not my style, and I don’t want to change my style. But if anyone abuses the team, we all go after him. We have each others’ back. So that is when I join in. I don’t believe in abusing — the intention is to just disturb the batsman’s focus. That’s the whole point. So if I can do it with a comment here and there, I do, or I just stay with my teammates and support them.
MOHAMED THAVER: You have played under the captainship of both M S Dhoni and Virat Kohli. How are the two different as captains?
Their ways are different but their intention is the same — to win games for Team India. They are both different people. Dhoni bhai is quiet and calm under pressure, Kohli is more expressive. Dhoni is calm even off the field. As a captain, you have to lead from the front, and both Dhoni and Kohli do that.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: Players such as Steve Waugh have compared your batting technique with Sachin Tendulkar’s.
It feels great to be compared to Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. I have learned a lot from them, but they are legends who have done so much, and every individual has a different style. I am just starting my career and have a long way to go. I am lucky to have shared dressing rooms (with them). I am still in touch with them and seek their advice.
ROHIT ALOK: Is there any film that you watch to motivate yourself?
Coach Carter (2005), on basketball, was very good. My all-time favourite film is Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992).
BHARAT SUNDARESAN: There were reports that your father was worried about the IPL (Indian Premier League) after-parties.
There is a rule in our house: Whenever you go out, to a birthday party or dinner, whatever happens, you must come back home in the night. Kuch bhi ho jaaye (No matter what happens)! Even during the IPL season, I would go to sleep early.
I am a quiet person but that doesn’t mean I am not living a life. I spend time with friends, go out for dinners, be with family.
SRIRAM VEERA: You want to be seen as a nice guy…
Yes, cricket and batting is one thing but I want to be known as a good human being. That’s very important to me.