The 33-year-old guided India to an unforgettable come-from-behind series win in Australia in 2020-21, after Virat Kohli left on paternity leave post the debacle in Adelaide (India 36 all out).
But post that Rahane saw a slump in his own batting form, after a stellar role with the bat and as a captain in the series Down Under.
Rahane lost the India Test vice captaincy to Rohit Sharma ahead of the tour of South Africa, on which he had poor run of form, managing to score just 136 runs in 3 Tests (6 innings). His shot selection of him came under the scanner and his place of him in the playing XI was questioned.
Rahane will now be going back to domestic cricket and is hoping to have a good outing in the Ranji Trophy, where he aims to score lots of runs to recover his lost touch.
Despite all the criticism he has faced in recent times, Rahane remains unruffled and is confident that he will be back with a bang, maintaining that there is still international cricket left in him.
(Image credit: Ajinkya Rahane’s Twitter handle)
TimesofIndia.com caught up with Ajinkya Rahane, who has 4931 runs in 82 Tests at an average of 38.52, including 12 centuries and 25 fifties, for an exclusive interview to talk about him going back to domestic cricket, whether he needs to be more outspoken , losing the Test vice captaincy, the historic series win Down Under and much more.
You struggled to put up big scores in South Africa and faced quite a bit of criticism. Do you think you have Test cricket left in you and can make a comeback, or is this the end of the road for you as a Test cricketer?
I believe in myself. I believe in my abilities. In South Africa, I was beating really well. I made some contributions. I accept that I am going through a bad phase. Everyone goes through phases like these. There were players who had gone through this before me. And, there will be payers who will go through this phase after me as well. Everyone has to go through this phase and this is not permanent. Neither am I running away from it nor am I hiding, I am simply accepting it. I believe there is still cricket left in me. Not just Test cricket, the shorter formats also and I am really looking forward to that. Right now, I am just focusing on the moment. Right now, I am just focusing on the Ranji Trophy and want to give my best for the Mumbai team. I am confident that I will be back (in the Indian team). I do believe in myself. This phase is not permanent and I am learning from it. Those who have gone through this phase, have made comebacks too.
There is some talk about players like Ishan Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wrddhiman Saha and yourself – that the selectors are starting to look beyond you now and wanting to blood youngsters. How do you react to such reports?
The names you just took – Ishant, Wriddhi, and Pujara, these guys have performed consistently for years. Wriddhiman, whenever he got an opportunity, he did really well. He has scored runs in crucial moments and has taken brilliant catches. Playing 100 Tests for a fast bowler is not an easy thing. Ishant has done that. He has performed consistently and taken wickets at crucial times. These guys have been performing for years. We should all respect that.
You will be playing in the Ranji Trophy now under a young captain Prithvi Shaw…
I am getting the opportunity to play Ranji Trophy after years. I am really looking forward to it. I am really thankful to the BCCI who have made the decision to organize the Ranji Trophy this year so that the players get the opportunity to play in this tournament. I am looking forward to contributing for the Mumbai team. I came into the international circuit because of the Ranji Trophy. I scored runs for five years consistently and then I made it to the Indian team. Ranji Trophy is special to me.
Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma (TOI Photo)
When you were replaced by Rohit Sharma as the Test vice-captain of the Indian team, did selectors speak with you before making the decision? What was your reaction?
That was entirely the selectors’ decision (making Rohit the vice-captain). Nothing was in my control. I respect that decision. Rohit is doing really well and he is leading the team really well. I was happy for Rohit. I have played a lot of cricket to get there. We are good friends too. I am really happy for Rohit. I don’t think about something that is not in my control. It was selectors’ call. Selectors made me the vice-captain and they made me the captain too. Making Rohit the vice-captain was their decision and I completely respect that.
You don’t express much and are not really outspoken. Do you think this affects the way people look at you and judge you? Can they get the wrong impression sometimes because you don’t speak out very often?
I have my own method and everyone has different methods and different styles. For me, what worked for me, I backed that. I don’t express myself much. I just mind my own business. Whatever needs to be done on the field, whatever is important, I just focus on that. At the same time, no one should take me for granted. I know what is happening. For me, the team is important, the team is special, and giving my best to the team and winning a Test match or winning a series anywhere is important and special. I don’t express too much. I don’t say too much. I quietly do my job but that doesn’t mean that people should take me for granted.
Ajinkya Rahane (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)
Do you think sometimes you should speak your mind openly?
I don’t express too much. I respect the team environment. But again, that doesn’t mean one should take things for granted. For me, the most important thing is performance, how can I give my best for the team, how can I respect the team’s environment. Those are the things I always value.
After India lost the opening Test in Adelaide on the last tour of Australia in 2020-21, which also saw the team being skittled out for their all time lowest Test innings total of 36, Virat Kohli returned to India on paternity leave. You then captained India to a series win from there. How difficult was it to re-energize the team from being 0-1 down in a foreign series, especially with the team being hit by multiple injury blows
It was really special. Not just for all of us, but for every Indian. Everyone will remember the series forever. I am not going to take any credit for myself. But the way we made a comeback after Adelaide’s defeat was something special. Yes, I had my own plans, as a captain and as a batsman. I have a different style of leading the team. And I just backed that. For me, it was important to give confidence to each and every individual. I have a habit of speaking one-on-one with players rather than speaking in front of everyone. I just backed that style. The Melbourne innings was really special for me (112 off 223 balls in India first innings of the second Test). Winning that Test match was a real comeback (India won by 8 wickets). From there onwards, we played to our potential, we backed each other and most importantly, we enjoyed each other’s success. That was the important thing in the series – backing each other and enjoying each other’s success.
(Image credit: Ajinkya Rahane’s Twitter handle)
First of all, it was important for me to believe. If I will believe, others will have faith automatically. My way is different. If I want to do something, I will not go and tell everyone. I just want to take the best out of every single player. I want every player to play their role and give them confidence. Every captain has his own way of handling things, mine is different. When I sat in the room, I asked myself whether I believe or not. And the answer was ‘Yes’. I said to myself that anything is possible. That’s how it started. It was the belief that kept all of us going. I saw that confidence and belief in everyone.
All I wanted was everyone should give their hundred percent and play good cricket with a good attitude. Whatever people speak outside, we cannot control. What we can control is to focus on cricket and focus on playing good cricket and have that good energy and good environment. Everyone should have a good attitude and positivity inside. And, that’s what we did. That’s how it worked. And I want to credit every single member of the team for this success. Everyone played their role and contributed. It was really special.
(Image credit: Ajinkya Rahane’s Twitter handle)
What was your biggest takeaway from that series triumph in Australia – both as a captain and a batsman?
As a captain, I just focused on my job and focused on the controllables. You have to see what is important for you, what is special, and how important is the team for you. For me as a captain, I believe in leading from the front. It was important to keep things simple and believe in myself and in my team.
What’s your take on the change in the coaching staff of the indian cricket team with rahul dravid becoming the head coach? Will that, according to you, shape Indian cricket in a positive way going forward?
We are really lucky to have Rahul bhai as a coach. I have played under him and I have played with him. I have played against him also in the Duleep Trophy a long time back. He was playing for South Zone and I was playing for West Zone. It’s great to have him as a coach and the other staff (members) also. They worked really hard with India A and they deserve to be here. They are doing a great job. They are focused, their methods are good. The communication is really good from Rahul bhai’s side, which I really appreciate. The communication is loud and clear.
What are the big differences between the previous coaching structure with Ravi Shastri as head coach vis a vis the current one led by Rahul Dravid?
Every coach has a different way of dealing with things. Their styles are different. It is very important how a coach addresses a player. As I said communication is really important. I know Rahul bhai very well and closely. His communication from him is very clear. He speaks in a straight forward way, which I feel is very important.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism