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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Ajinkya Rahane: ‘Virat is captain now… happy to take a back-seat in England Tests’

Ajinkya Rahane says he hasn’t given much thought to suggestions of taking over as permanent Test captain and commends Rahul Dravid’s "massive" role in nurturing young talent.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi |
Updated: February 2, 2021 7:41:23 am
Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Indian cricket team vice-captain, Australia test tour, test win, Test caption, Ideas exchange, sports news, Indian express newsAjinkya Rahane, vice-captain of the Indian cricket team. (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: The Australia series was hectic for the Indian team, with many highs and lows — the best win, the worst loss, the draw. You were also in a bio-bubble for a long time. Now that it’s all over and you are preparing for the England series, what are your thoughts?

Ajinkya Rahane: The entire nation is enjoying what happened in Australia. It was very special for everyone. Given what we have all gone through in the pandemic, I thought the victory was for our healthcare workers, the police forces, and everyone who worked really hard throughout the year. It feels very special to represent the country and do something for it. It was challenging in the bio-bubble. Quarantine life is challenging, but when you represent your country, that is the priority. The Australia series is behind us, we have to now focus on the England series and do well.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Has the victory sunk in yet? You are being hailed as the best Test captain that India has ever had. Bishan Singh Bedi compared you to Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi.

Ajinkya Rahane: It’s all just sinking in. The compliments from the legends means a lot and I respect it. I respect what the critics say too. You have to take it in your stride. You can’t get over-confident. I just humbly accept the compliments. My aim is to do well for my country, and keep improving as a cricketer, whether as a captain or a vice-captain or a player. I believe that every time we step on the field there is an opportunity to do something special for the country. So it’s all just sinking in. It is a really proud moment.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Since the win in Australia, comparisons are being drawn between Virat Kohli and your captaincy. Have you had a chance to speak to him?

Ajinkya Rahane: We both are really good friends. We just want to do well for the country. Let me tell you, Virat is the captain now and I am the vice-captain. The situation is back to what it was. He is captain and I am vice-captain, and I am enjoying my role. When Virat left after the Adelaide match, my aim was similar to his — to do well for my country and to get the best out of every player. We both are really close and really good friends… I am happy to take a back-seat in the England series and continue.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Have you spoken to him since the victory?

Ajinkya Rahane: We just exchanged a few congratulatory messages. I didn’t want to disturb him. He is going through a special moment in his life.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: The Australia series was long and challenging. Have you grown as a captain, man manager, and cricketer during the period?

Ajinkya Rahane: First I was part of the series as a player and then as captain. As captain, it was important for me to back each and every individual, even guys who were not playing. I had to keep supporting them, give them confidence and make them feel that they are important to the team, and that everyone was capable of winning any match. That’s what I learnt. I want to continue the learning process. The victory and journey were very special.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: During the series, players were getting injured, there were racist chants during the Sydney Test. In the final Test, when Navdeep Saini was bowling, you dropped the catch. Then, we saw an injured Saini walk away. How did you pick yourself up from there and motivate the team?

Ajinkya Rahane: It was sad to lose a player (to injuries) every day. We actually lost a player or two every game. As captain, as a player, I kept thinking that there is an opportunity somewhere for someone to grab and do something for the team… Saini was bowling so well, and initially I was disappointed. Catches are crucial. Then I saw Saini holding his leg and I thought let’s forget about the catch and go and see what happened to him. He said he was struggling, and even the physiotherapists said we will take him out now and when he is better, he can come back. I told myself to be in the moment. We cannot control all these things. We had four bowlers and I thought, let’s give them confidence and the freedom to express themselves and back them, and then accept whatever happens. I think being in that zone really helped me.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: And then, in the final match, you were forced to take decisions every few overs. Was there any conversation before the game or a plan in place for the match?

Ajinkya Rahane: Nothing at all, it was like any other Test match. On the morning of the fifth day, we decided to take one session at a time, like let’s play till lunch and then assess the game from there on… But suddenly, when Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara were batting, they had a very good partnership. When Shubman got out and I walked in, I thought let’s carry it on. I thought if I can get a quick 30-40 runs, you never know. We were looking to chase 140-150 runs in 38 overs after tea, so I thought that was possible… That’s why I played that innings the way I did, I was looking for runs. Pujara’s role was very clear, to bat the way he was batting, and hold his end.

After tea, the way Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar batted, we didn’t tell them anything, just to back their own game.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: There has been a lot of conversation about how you always have a straight face no matter what the situation on the field is. Does it come to you naturally or do you work at it?

Ajinkya Rahane: I think it comes naturally to me. I have been learning about Vedanta philosophy, and I have been practising it even during the lockdown… I have been following the philosophy for the past six-seven years. It has been helping me a lot in life when it comes to coping with success and failure, to understand what is important in life and what matters to you. It has been working very well for me. The philosophy is about life, it is not related to cricket… How to deal with pressure situations, how to deal with success and failure, if you are failing, how you can be calm and positive, and what is the bigger picture…

DEVENDRA PANDEY: Did you know about Shardul Thakur not passing on coach Ravi Shastri’s message to Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari during the Sydney Test?

Ajinkya Rahane: I didn’t know if Shardul had given the message or not because I was sitting in the dressing room in Sydney. I got out in the second over on the morning of the fifth day, and from then on, I just kept sitting in one place. So I didn’t ask if Shardul gave the message or not. Ashwin and Vihari were playing well. I trust my players…

DIPANKAR GHOSE: There has been a lot of conversation about the impact of IPL matches on Test tournaments. There were a lot of debutants in the Australia series who performed very well in pressure situations. Do you think the IPL experience helps in Test matches?

Ajinkya Rahane: I think IPL has helped each and every cricketer in terms of experience, to play quality attacks, to gain knowledge about the game… IPL helped make players fearless, which is really good. If there is no fear of failure, players can play their natural game, and that is what all these guys did. The team is looking forward to playing more Test matches, which is a really good sign. We all give importance to Test cricket, we know Test cricket is everything. So yes, I feel IPL plays a big role in giving players that confidence, that X-factor, and at the same time, we all give importance to Test cricket too.

SRIRAM VEERA: You maintain a personal diary. What were some of things that you wrote down during the Australia series?

Ajinkya Rahane: I am not going to reveal that (laughs)… That is for me. When the time comes, I might reveal it… We all were disappointed with what happened in Adelaide, but because of that one hour, we didn’t want to doubt our abilities. We played some good cricket before that but because of that one hour we lost the match. We accepted it and gave credit to Australia. The important thing was to move forward and figure out a way to come back into the game in Melbourne. So that was the focus in Melbourne, playing good cricket with a fighting spirit and showing good character on the field.

SRIRAM VEERA: Delhi Capitals’ assistant coach Mohammad Kaif has praised your attitude during the IPL matches, even when you were not scoring runs. Do you work at it? You gave your full support to the captain and didn’t pull rank despite being the vice-captain of the Indian team.

Ajinkya Rahane: That’s who I am. I respect the game. Cricket is bigger than me, I am not bigger than cricket. Every player is equal. I was a part of the team. I did not think about being the vice-captain of the Indian team… I was there to serve the Delhi Capitals team. I don’t expect or look for any sympathies, because if you do, you get negative. I don’t want that. It was all about improving my game, trusting what the team management was doing, and just backing myself and waiting for my opportunity. As I said, the game is bigger than anyone.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Many are calling the win in Australia a victory of India’s domestic system and the role that Rahul Dravid has been playing in bringing talented youngsters. Can you tell us about it?

Ajinkya Rahane: Rahulbhai plays a very big role. He was with the Under-19 team, then he was with India A, and now he is with the National Cricket Academy. (The system) has helped Mohammed Siraj, Saini… They have been on their toes and they did so well. Shubman Gill also, Mayank Agarwal… Before joining international cricket, he did so many tours with India A, got runs at the domestic level. So I think Rahulbhai’s role was massive. We used to go to NCA before lockdown… and if a guy like Rahul Dravid is there, you learn something every day… We talk over the phone, exchange messages. He messaged me after the Melbourne match and immediately after the Brisbane match, saying how proud he was of the team.

DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: There has been a lot of debate over potential versus performance in the case of Rishabh Pant. What is your assessment of him?

Ajinkya Rahane: See, for a player like Rishabh, you don’t want him to think too much, or tell him too much… He knows his game really well, he plays in a certain fashion and you don’t want to disturb that. Because of his innings we were in a situation to win the Test match in Sydney… So for a player like him, you just want to leave him alone, back him and just ask him to play his normal game.

SHAMIK CHAKRABARTY: There are two schools of captaincy. One is of Imran Khan, Sourav Ganguly, where the captain is the boss. The other school is of Allan Border who leaned heavily on Bob Simpson when Australia was in a rebuilding phase. All these captains were very successful. Which school do you belong to? Also, did you speak to Sourav Ganguly after the win in Australia?

Ajinkya Rahane: You will have to decide that… My goal was very simple: to get my team going, to get everyone together. The support staff’s help was massive for me. It made my job really easy. It was important for me to support each and every individual. I am a guy who generally believes in one-on-one talk… Everyone is different as a captain, and they back their own methods. My methods are completely different and I back them.

After the Adelaide Test match, Dada called me and said just be strong, just get everyone together and just believe in yourself, as an individual and as a team. That was the message.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: You are set to play the England series soon and India is being hailed as an invincible team by many former cricketers from there. How seriously do you take these assessments?

Ajinkya Rahane: People will talk… After Adelaide, people were writing us off. I don’t see or read anything while on tour. My social media is off during series. As a team, backing our gameplan, our team, playing together, that is what we are thinking about.

NITIN SHARMA: After the Adelaide loss, what were your first thoughts as you took over as captain?

Ajinkya Rahane: In the Adelaide match, I was there as a vice-captain and player. After the loss, we were all disappointed. We didn’t know what had happened. Within an hour, the game changed completely. We wanted to move on, so we told ourselves to accept the situation and see how we can make a comeback. We knew that we were going to miss Virat as a captain and as a player. We had some strategies (for future matches).

SRIRAM VEERA: There have been suggestions for you to take on Test captaincy permanently. Would you want that?

Ajinkya Rahane: It feels good when people appreciate you. I have not read anything. I am spending time with my family. Virat is the captain and I am vice-captain, and we are back to that in the England series.

ATRI MITRA: Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah faced racial slurs during the Sydney match. How did you deal with that as a team?

What happened in Sydney was very bad and not acceptable. When we go overseas, fans abuse opponents to cheer up the home team. But when people are abusing you based on the colour of your skin and hurling racial slurs, that is not acceptable and we took a stand…

ANANT GOENKA: We are seeing conflicting interests in the administration of cricket these days and it is only growing. For instance, coaches, team captains have stakes in a gaming company etc. Does it bother you at all or do you think it is compartmentalised?

Ajinkya Rahane: I don’t think too much about it. I only think about cricket and how I can contribute to the team, as a player, as a vice-captain…

SHUBHAJIT ROY: As a sportsperson playing during a pandemic, what have you learnt about your game?

Ajinkya Rahane: To keep your life simple and respect it. I always believe in it, not just during the pandemic. And, to not take anything for granted. These are my two learnings.

VISHAL MENON: In a recent interview to The Indian Express, Hanuma Vihari said that the Adelaide Test brought the team closer. Was it a blessing in disguise?

Ajinkya Rahane: (Laughs) I don’t know now… That time was very different. The team did come together. Everyone was looking to help each other. We had a few team dinners together and team activities in our team room because we couldn’t go out. We planned to give our best as a team, as a unit, and to fight it out together. That worked out for us.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: What is the one moment in the series which you will remember for years to come?

Ajinkya Rahane: (I will always remember) our team meeting in Melbourne, after the Adelaide Test match, when I actually took over. It (the turnaround) started from there… the vibe… we were not sure what was going to happen in the series, but everyone got together, we were determined to do well… That moment when we got together was special.

SANDEEP DWIVEDI: Players like you, Pujara, Ashwin have not been under the spotlight for your performance in Test cricket often. Was the Australia series a validation for you? And, what is your bonding like with these players?

Ajinkya Rahane: It (our bonding) started from the practice games. We played two practice games, and Pujara, Ashwin and I, we were discussing things all the time, not just about cricket… In general, we have a bond. We have been playing together since long.

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