Will Rahane follow Dravid’s footsteps?

Ajinkya Rahane

Gaurav Joshi, The Indian Down Under Reporter, has a chat with Ajinkya Rahane in Mumbai
Indian great Rahul Dravid made his debut in July 1996 at the home of cricket – Lord’s, a place where people are immaculately dressed, the pavilion is a heritage building, to leave-the-ball-outside-the-off- stump is appreciated and the perfect technique respected.
No other cricketer over the past fifteen years would have been better suited to the customs at Lords. At that point in time had Dravid sat in the time machine and gone forward fifteen years, he may have wondered what a debut for Dravid would be like in the current age of cricket? Well, during his brief Twenty20 debut innings he had a vision of it only fifteen yards down the pitch.
On the other end was young man from Mumbai in Ajinkya Rahane. The ”˜Mumbaikar’ is almost the same age that Dravid was when he made his debut in the conventional scene at Lord’s. But this was Rahane’s debut in the perfect scene of modern day cricket; 20-over matches, coloured clothing, where the dot ball is booed, edge over the keeper is appreciated and batsmen make a mockery of perfect technique.
Apart from the different settings, there was an immediate impact and there is a parallel between both these cricketers at the same age.
Although Rahane was in coloured clothing and making his debut in Twenty20 cricket, there were glimpses in his batting that showed he is the old style modern day cricketer.
More importantly, Rahane is the student of Mumbai batsmanship and proved himself in the domestic circuit in four-day matches. The term “four day” is emphasised as this is the missing recipe for selectors when it comes to any format of cricket. In fact, Rahane (first-class average 60.75) has a record so impressive that only three batsmen in the history of first-class cricket average more than Rahane ”“ Don Bradman, Vijay Merchant, George Headley, Ajay Sharma, Bill Ponsford, Bill Woodfull, Shantanu Sugwekar and KC Ibrahim.
Thus Rahane is in excellent company!
“Cricket is life in Mumbai, I remember playing in my colony against boys few years older than me so it was always challenging. I recall people calling me ”˜Limbu Timbu’ [Mumbai term for a small kid] and I used to think to myself if I can prove my ability against bigger boys I will get respect”
Rahane, a lad from Dombivilli — an outer middle class suburb in Mumbai, went to a school which only had one practice cricket net for over 300 kids in the local area. The rise to the top has been a long process of proving his ability in school cricket, club cricket, Kanga league, Mumbai academy and then the Irani and Ranji trophy.
Unlike Rohit Sharma or Suresh Raina, he doesn’t have the flair which is so often needed in modern day cricket to make headlines. What he lacks in flair is made up in dedication and hard work that has led to solid technique.
Rahane is known for spending hours in the nets improving his technique. During Shane Warne’s last IPL season he was asked as to who was the most hard-working batsman, he immediately mentioned Ajinkya Rahane. Warne said, “At every optional training session Rahane would be there batting and constantly working on his technique and concentration,” and the spin whizz mentioned he reminded him a lot of Rahul Dravid in terms of the way “he went about things”.
In the Emerging tournament in Australia in 2011 at the end of the first day’s play against Australia, Rahane was not out on 71. He had fielded the whole day and opened the batting once the opposition had been bowled out. After walking off the field to applause from his coach, Ajinkya politely asked the coach if he could still have a net session before returning to his hotel.
It showed the devotion of a cricketer who is similar to Dravid in the way he gets the best out of himself.
Rahane is also rated highly by his peers. While chatting amongst the emerging players in Australia, it was evident the respect Rahane has amongst domestic cricketers. A few players asked Rahane if he remembered the last time he got out in domestic cricket.
It was after the emerging tour he got a call up from the national selectors to play in the ODI series in England. “Playing for India is a dream come true but discussing all the mental aspects of batting with Rahul Dravid on that tour was another dimension”
“When he first played for Mumbai, Rahane would simply tuck the ball off his hips or wait for the bad ball but as time as gone on he has developed such a wide variety of strokes” says senior journalist Shard Kadrekar.
Having bided his time in the Ranji Trophy, Rahane has been on fringe of selection in the Indian Test X1. Rahane would be the water boy for sixteen consecutive Tests but it never frustrated him. “I don’t let that bother me at all, it is part of learning cricket mentally as well, I can use a similar situation in the match when I’m not hitting the ball well but just hanging in there, I have learnt from just being around Sachin Tendulkar and co, there is plenty of cricket to be learnt off the field as well”.
Rahane did finally get his Indian cap in the fourth Test against Australia in Delhi. “I had so many phone calls the night before asking if I was going to be in the X1, I had to just let go of my blackberry for a while. I had known the day before I was in and only a couple of people knew of my selection”.
Asked about the experience he said everything went so quick. It was a tough wicket but I have played on worse so should have managed to hang in there. But I am hopeful I will get another chance”.
Rahane still strives to improve his record despite having set such a high standard. “It is one step at a time, I have the IPL first and I want to improve on my record from last year, then if I get selected there is the Champions Trophy, cricket has taught me to not look too far ahead.”
One of the books he recently read is Justin Langer’s Keeping My Head. “It is a great read, Langer also found it difficult to find a place in the team and how to overcome the psychological pressure on the inside.”
What does the lad from Mumbai do when he is not playing cricket?
“I like to read and just relax at home, now a few people know who I am. I like to stay out of the public. People are always looking over you, so I’m usually at home with family”.
Rahane might try and evade the spotlight but one feels his sheer runs in all formats of the game will ensure he could well be the man to replace Tendulkar at the number four position for India.

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