During India’s recent Test tours of South Africa and New Zealand — away tours for the side after nearly two years — Ajinkya Rahane came into his own as a Test player. Not only did he register his maiden Test century in this period, Rahane was the only batsman to succeed on both tours apart from Virat Kohli. Speaking to The Indian Express, the 25-year old throws light on the hard work put behind his turnaround and just why he did not react after being felled by a Dale Steyn bouncer. Excerpts.
What are your expectations from this IPL season?
The main thing is to keep things simple and not put too much pressure on self. I’m enjoying my batting at the moment. We have good side, a side full of players who know the inner workings of the Rajasthan Royals set-up. Getting back into the groove quickly will be key. The reason for Royals’ success in the past is our willingness to help one another out, no matter what.
Last season you proved that you can score runs in T20 cricket with a straight bat. Have you added any unconventional stroke to your repertoire?
There are certain strokes which I’m working on and I’m trying them out during practice games and in the nets. Only once I am completely confident of executing it in match situations I not be implementing it. It is nothing revolutionary, just regular shots with modified angles of the bat.
Shane Watson is the new RR captain. How do you see him taking over after Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid?
Watson is very helpful cricketer who gets along with everyone really well. He has been part of Rajasthan family since its inception and is perhaps the side’s most experienced cricketer.
The South Africa tour was a turning point as far as your international career is concerned. How do you look back at it now?
Yes, things weren’t going well for me after my debut Test in Delhi, which was below average to be honest. But I knew that I would come back strong, given the chance. When I was chosen for the tour of South Africa, I ensured that I hit the nets immediately with Pravin Amre. He pointed it out to me that I was playing away from my body often and got me to adjust it. The closer one plays to his body, the lesser are the chances of the edging the ball. Amre sir also made sure that our practice sessions were slotted for early mornings, when the pitches are covered with dew which helps with seam movement.
And how did you prepare for the bounce on SA’s pitches?
Amre sir decided to prepare me for bouncers with a wet rubber ball. I made up my mind to take plenty of hits on my body. That mindset would have helped when Dale Steyn knocked you on the head during the first Test in Johannesburg.
Yes, I still remember it. I got hit and told myself to not react. Because had I shown pain, it would have given Steyn and the opposition immense confidence and they would have probably gotten me out soon after. The world is watching you and by not reacting you show that you are mentally strong. The message from me to him was this: Bowl whatever you want at me and I will not lose focus.
How satisfying was your maiden Test ton in Wellington?
It gave me confidence and the belief that I belong at this level. Scoring runs abroad in general is the big challenge. I may have missed out on a century in Durban by four runs, but that too was a big confidence booster. I reinstated my belief in hard work; there is no substitute for it.
How much has the IPL helped in facing these fast bowlers from SA and NZ?
Yes, it surely helps because when I faced them in Test cricket I took confidence from the fact that I had already played most of them in the IPL before. You have a fair idea of how they bowl and their strengths and weaknesses. IPL has helped us a lot in that sense.
There seems to have been a dramatic improvement in your fielding. Have you been spending more time on it?
I always focussed equally on fielding and batting. It is perhaps paying off only now on the international stage. My role in the side is that of a batsman, but in today’s world one cannot get away by being a bad fielder. As a batsman, I know the value of chasing a target that’s 20 runs shorter than what it should have been. And my aim is to save those runs when on the field. Running someone out during a crucial period only helps further.