Mumbai: Ajinkya Rahane is among the pillars of India’s Test team and with the 5-match series against England looming on the horizon, the Indian vice-captain spoke exclusively to Ayaz Memon (Cricketwallah) on his preparations, being overlooked for the limited overs series, the yo-yo test and a lot more.
Ayaz Memon: My guest today is Ajinkya Rahane, star batsman of the Indian cricket team, about to take off for England in the coming days. What are you doing in the Army outfit, looks like you have been doing some serious training. I thought you would be training at the BKC ground.
Ajinkya Rahane: I was practicing this morning. My routine is like I practice in the morning, then take a break for some time and then train in the afternoon. So, I have been doing this for the last couple of weeks. I think before going to England, we all know what challenges we will be facing there and I personally, like to prepare myself really well before each and every series. So, yeah, I have been practicing very hard, not only with my cricketing skills, but on my fitness as well.
Ayaz Memon: Have you have been practicing in isolation and have you been coming to the MCA ground on your own these days? How have you been training – are you using the bowling machines or taking the help of kids? Tell us how you have been training?
Ajinkya Rahane: I have been practicing with Praveen Amre sir. There are these two guys who come with him. I do some throw downs. I also practice with the help of bowling machines. I did some practice with the tennis balls as well as with half tennis and half rubber balls, which help in tackling swinging deliveries — both incoming and outgoing. So just some specific skill training to get ready for the challenges that we are going to face in England. The conditions there help the ball move a bit — depending upon the weather. If it is cloudy, the ball moves a bit and if it’s sunny then the wickets are pretty good to bat on. I want to cover each and every aspect of batting, so that I am able to tackle any type of condition which we will be facing in England and do well there.
Ayaz Memon: I think a lot of people want to understand this the conditions get really difficult when the ball is swinging — especially swinging late. But let’s hear it from the expert. The guy who actually goes out and play. What is the difficulty quotient? What happens? Is it difficult to follow the line when it swings late? Tell us what really happens.
Ajinkya Rahane: It swings really late in England. If it is cloudy then the ball does a bit and swings really late. If it is sunny, (the wicket) it is very good to bat on. But I think in England, it is important to play as late as possible. The idea is to play close to your body rather than going after the delivery. I think one has to let the ball come to him and wait for the delivery and then play a shot. I think this matters a lot in England. In Australia and South Africa, we know there will be lot of pace and bounce on the wicket and we can play on the rise. But in England, one has to give himself sometime in the middle — half an hour or forty-five minutes. Also, one has to give the due respect to the opponent and then play their shots. But, I think playing really tight in England, close to your body and waiting for the ball to come to you is really important.
Ayaz Memon: Let’s do recap a bit — last time, we won the first Test where you scored a century at Lord’s. But from there on, there was a massive slump. Obviously, you guys were not as experienced campaigners as you are today but was that the single biggest factor or did the opponents played really well?
Ajinkya Rahane: I think they played really well. For many of us, that was our first tour of England. We played well in the first Test and won the match at Lord’s. This will be our second time to England and all of us are really experienced now and we have been to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. We know our strengths and we have a good bowling attack as well. So, I think as a batting unit, it is important to four sessions outside India. In India, we can play four to five sessions, but outside India, if we manage to play four sessions, you can easily get 350 runs. If you have 350 on the board outside India and if you have a good bowling attack, you are in a good position.
Ayaz Memon: Is there pressure on you and the team, knowing that England are in a sense, the litmus test for the team. Even in South Africa, you may have lost the series but the team did well. You won in Sri Lanka, you did well in Australia, though you lost the series. Is this a litmus test and everybody conscious of it?
Ajinkya Rahane: There is no pressure (on us), but definitely, there is a big challenge ahead of us. It is not going to be easy in England, especially with their bowling attack. They have a very experienced bowling attack. It will be important for us to start well and we have to play to our strengths, rather than thinking about their plans. I think what we have done in the last couple of years is that we have played to our strengths. I think we complement each other as a batting unit and also as a bowling unit. The communication between players is really good. So, this time, I think we are definitely more experienced but still we do not want to take England lightly. We are going to play one practice game there before the first Test match. So, we will get five to six practice sessions and one practice match. I think this will be beneficial for us.
Ayaz Memon: Are you happy with the fact that the core of the team has been in England much before the Test series as they are playing T20Is and ODIs. Is that a great way to prepare for the five-Test series to have the core of the team reaching much before?
Ajinkya Rahane: Definitely! Most of the guys are already there and I think getting used to the conditions there is very important. I am leaving in couple of days with few guys. I am also playing an India A game there and after that we will play a practice match on 25th. So, I think two matches before the first Test will boost our confidence. I always believe that whenever we go to play in other countries, if we are familiar with the conditions before the first day of the Test, then we are in good shape.
Ayaz Memon: Rahul Dravid is already in England with the India ‘A’ squad. So, you will get time to reconnect with him.
Ajinkya Rahane: Yes, after a long time actually. It is always good to be with Rahul Bhai. I have learnt a lot of things from him, not only about my batting but in general as well. I have been with him in the Indian team and also Rajasthan Royals. I will try to take few more tips from him about my batting and also the conditions. He has done really well in England. On his last tour in 2013, he got three tons. I am really looking forward to see Rahul Bhai and looking forward to learn from him.
Ayaz Memon: There is a lot of competition for places in the Indian Team. You were out top-performing batsman overseas for many years but has recently been in and out of the team. In South Africa, you didn’t play the first two Tests and then you played than match-winning knock in the third Test. How is this level of competition affecting players like you and also the others because there hasn’t been many players in the squad who are guaranteed of a place in the side in every format?
Ajinkya Rahane: I don’t think that this is affecting me. The important thing is to believe in your abilities. I am aware of my capabilities and how good I am. It is all about believing in yourselves, rather than think about things that are not in your control. It is part and parcel of a professional cricketer’s life. Everyone goes through this phase. For me, it is important that I believe in my abilities. I know I can make a comeback and I have really well in the shorter formats in the past. I think, right now, the important thing is to practice hard and go out there and enjoy myself. For me, it is important to serve my country, be it any format. It is important to contribute to my team’s cause and do well for my country.
Ayaz Memon: You were seen as one of the best players for India in all three formats. And now, you are not playing two formats. And with the World Cup fast approaching, you must have set your sights on regaining your place back in the side. So, what are you doing about it? And the other thing is that, how easy or difficult is the adjustment because world over we are seeing that specialists have taken over and for players to play in all three formats is not easy anymore.
Ajinkya Rahane: First of all, I think it is a very good sign that so many talented cricketers are coming up. It is a very good sign for Indian cricket. It is a good problem to have many talented cricketers are coming in different formats. For me, what matters is to focus on my performance in England. Things can change pretty quickly in India. I believe in myself but right now, it is important for me to contribute in my team’s performance in England. And I hope that things will automatically in my favour.
Ayaz Memon: Kuldeep Yadav made his debut under your leadership against Australia in Dharamsala. Do you think he is emerging as the joker in the pack because he was not part of the Test squad originally, especially when you were playing overseas, but now I think everyone is focusing attention on him?
Ajinkya Rahane: I think he has been doing really well. For me, I think the only reason why Kuldeep played in that Dharamsala Test is because he was a wicket-taking bowler. We all know that wrist-spinners can change the complexion of the match in an over or two and that is what he is doing right now in all the formats of the team. Against England, he took three wickets in over to change the course of the match. I think he is working hard on his bowling and also his fitness. In Test cricket we has R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who have done so well for us in the last few years. Even in the last Test against Afghanistan, both did really well. It is a tough competition for Kuldeep but right now, I think he is doing really well in the shorter formats of the game. Also, I think that in future, he will do the same in Test cricket as well.
Ayaz Memon: How do you see so many bowlers coming up? We now have 7-8 good fast bowlers to choose from and 5-6 good spinners to choose from. Is there a definite effect of the IPL or is it the richness of the domestic circuit that is throwing up these bowlers?
Ajinkya Rahane: I think it is a mix and match of both. But the good thing is that our trainers and physios are actually looking after all the bowlers, not just those who are in the team. The trainers are looking after their fitness and their workload because you have to play so many matches throughout the year and it is important that you should take care of your fast bowlers. If you want to be a champion side in all the formats, we have to take care of not only our fast bowlers but all the players. The guys playing in IPL or in the domestic cricket, they have been really improving a lot.
Ayaz Memon: Greater opportunities for them to learn from various cricketers from around the world?
Ajinkya Rahane: Definitely. From each and every individual, you tend to learn a lot. In IPL, you get a chance to play with so many international cricketers and you get to learn so much from them.
Ayaz Memon: You passed your Yo-Yo fitness test with flying colours because you are one of the fittest guys in the team. Lot of people outside of the team are flummoxed that what is all this hype about this particular test. So, what exactly is happening?
Ajinkya Rahane: The culture right now in the teams is to focus on fitness. We have been playing so many matches, it is only good for the players. If you have the cricketing skills and your fitness is up to the mark, you can go miles. Our intention is to make team India number 1 in the world in all the formats. We believe that whatever fitness test is happening, it is really good for the team.
Ayaz Memon: So the players are mentally prepared that they have to do this fitness test and they know that what is expected out of them.
Ajinkya Rahane: Yes, they are all prepared for it.
Ayaz Memon: Just to give you an example, I spoke to Ravi Shastri before the team left for England, and asked him about the significance of the test because in his era there was no fitness test. He says that the difference is between 80 and 110. Is this the way how you see it also?
Ajinkya Rahane: 80 and 100 in ODIs but in Test cricket, you may be batting at 160-170 and if you teams wants you add further, that is when your fitness comes into play.
Ayaz Memon: What is the quintessential culture of the team? What is the thing that collectively you guys are targeting? How are you guys going about achieving your target as the process seems to be completely different as to what used to happen previously? What is the dressing room culture?
Ajinkya Rahane: We want to be become the number one side in the world in each and every format. But I think on the field it is important to have fun, to enjoy each other’s success. Not only in good times but even in good times, we enjoy each other’s company. We all go out for dinners during our tours. I think that is really important because this is our family. And if we are really enjoying ourselves, automatically our performances improve on the field.
Ayaz Memon: Are you affected by failures because sometimes failures can keep you out of the team. Your life is with the team and suddenly you are out of it, does that affect you?
Ajinkya Rahane: Definitely, you feel bad when you actually fail, but you get to learn so much from the failures. I always believe that you have to keep is very simple. For me, it is very important to learn as much as possible during both good and the bad times. When you represent your country, there is always an opportunity to do well and to become a hero. I think serving your country is the biggest thing in a person’s life. And when you represent your country, you always think about your country and not yourselves. I don’t think about my personal achievements. If your team does well you always feel happy.
Ayaz Memon: It has been a roller coaster ride for you in the last couple of years. How do you asses you career at this point in time?
Ajinkya Rahane: There is still a long way for me to go. I always feel that my best is yet to come and I am on the right track. I feel that all the things that I am doing is for my good. I am feeling really happy as my mind is in the right space. As a professional sportsperson, you have to accept failures as well. During bad times, I feel that I have to learn as much as possible.
Ayaz Memon: Have you set any targets for the upcoming series, anything specific for the 5-match Test series against England?
Ajinkya Rahane: As always, I am not thinking about myself. There is always this one goal that we have to do well in England win the series. I also want to contribute in the team victory in England, that is my goal.