Ajinkya Rahane is not quite expressive. Be it on the field, or off it, the star Indian batsman loves keeping things under the wraps. So, at times, it gets difficult to gauge his mind.
But when it comes to delivering the goods in the middle, the Mumbai-based batsman is fearless. While he likes keeping things simple, Rahane admits that he has learnt a lot from his old ‘captain and mentor’ Rahul Dravid.
Leading the Rajasthan Royals in this edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Rahane hopes to get the best out of his boys and ensure that the side does well in the tournament.
After a long practice session, ahead of its game against Kolkata Knight Riders, Rahane opened up to Sportstar for a long, free-wheeling chat. The skipper spoke on a range of issues, which have mostly remained unsaid so far.
As the captain of Rajasthan Royals, how are you enjoying the new role?
I am enjoying this a lot. This is a different challenge for me. I think captaining an IPL side is completely different. Here, people come from different countries and have different cultures. The guys are looking really good. The players which we have are very supportive and very helpful. At the same time, they are very talented. As a captain, I am really lucky to have them as my team-mates.
In the first couple of games in the tournament, many felt that you looked nervous on the field. But those who know you inside out, are actually used to seeing you calm and composed. So, were you nervous in the first stint as an IPL captain?
People always have their opinions. I cannot control that. Definitely everyone gets nervous. It is quite normal if you are nervous. It is all about how you handle yourself in the middle, and tackle the players. You need to give them confidence. In the first game, we did not get that one partnership. Hyderabad played some good cricket. Sometimes you do get nervous and, as I said, captaining an IPL team is a completely different thing. I am lucky that we are gelling well as a team.
The decision to appoint you as the skipper came suddenly. After Steven Smith was ruled out of the tournament, how did you change your mindset, coming into the IPL?
For me, it was all about being positive and taking the challenge. When the franchise management group told me that I am the captain for the season, I was really excited. The happiness was to lead this Rajasthan Royals side because this franchise gave me that platform to express myself, especially in T20s. On the personal front, I was really thrilled when I came to know about the decision.
At the same time, I knew there was a big responsibility coming my way. Not just a captain, it is also important to help my team-mates and get the best out of them because each and every individual is completely different.
As a captain, you have to handle them differently sometimes. I took up the challenge and I am still learning. It is a learning process. I am lucky to have Shane Warne as a mentor, Zubin Bharucha as the cricketing head and a few other senior players. I am really enjoying it.
Those who have seen you in the past, believe that you picked up a lot of things from former India captain and erstwhile Rajasthan Royals captain-mentor, Rahul Dravid. Somewhere in your mind, do you miss Dravid, the mentor?
Definitely. We all miss Rahul bhai , because his contribution to Rajasthan Royals has been amazing. We all know that. As a player, as a captain and as a mentor. But, sometimes there are things which you can’t control. I am in touch with him regularly. We met in Bengaluru last week.
What did he tell you?
He was really happy to see us winning the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, and he told me to keep things simple and told us that we have been doing really well. I try to still learn from him as a captain. When he was leading the side, I learnt a lot from him—both on and off the field—and also (loved) the way he would handle the players, the support staff. At the end of the day, it is your responsibility to convey your message to each and every individual.
You are not very expressive on the field. In RR, you replaced Steve Smith, who is known to express his emotions. At the same time, you replaced Virat Kohli, who makes every emotions count on the field, in the historic Dharamsala Test against Australia last year. How tough was it to adjust?
Everyone has different personality and their styles of captaincy is different from each other. Virat’s style of captaincy is completely different from that of Smith. My captaincy, again, is different from both of them. So, it is important to stick to your style rather than copying anyone.
For me, leading the Indian team in Dharamsala (in the final Test against Australia last year, where the team won the series), was a completely different game. The series was one-all and the Dharamsala game was the match to win and we all know how challenging it was. Losing Virat wasn’t easy as he was in great form. That was a new challenge and leading Rajasthan Royals, here, is again something different. But then, life is all about taking those challenges in a positive way and learning from those things. The idea is to move forward. As I said, this is still a learning phase for me as a captain, and I am looking forward to the forthcoming games.
Despite being one of the most successful batsmen in the IPL, you have been in and out of India’s limited-overs side. Do you think it is time to cement your place in the limited-overs side?
I have been doing well in the ODI cricket, so for me, it is all about focusing on my game. I always focus on things that are in my control and try to prepare myself well. Whenever I get an opportunity, I try to do well there. As a player, it is all about giving your best—whether you are practising or playing a match. Right now, I am focusing on the IPL, and hoping to give my best for the Royals. The target is also to get the best out of the boys at RR, and ensure that the franchise does well. I am not focusing ahead right now. Yes, my goal is definitely to do well in the World Cup next year, and be a match-winner there. But, at the moment, I am just focusing on the IPL.
What about the Test format? India will be touring England in the next couple of months…
It is still a long way to go. I don’t want to talk about that because my mind is here and this is where all the focus is now. But definitely, England will be a challenging series. As we all know that playing against England, in England, is definitely a big challenge. As a team, we all are doing well. We have got the best bowling attack now—the fast bowlers, the spinners. The batting unit is also fantastic, so there is still some two months left for the series, and I am excited. I am looking forward to playing in England.
Are you considering a county stint like your other team-mates, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara?
I don’t want to comment on that.
But has that thought crossed your mind?
See, I don’t know anything about that. Haven’t thought of it yet. I am playing IPL now.
Since you play in all the three formats of the game, what are the changes that you bring in when you switch formats?
It is all about keeping your game really simple. I don’t make it too complicated. Whether it is Test, ODI or T20, it is all about keeping your game simple. You must know what will suit you and what type of game you are capable of. It is all about adjusting your game according to the situation and the format. I just try to keep it really simple, whatever be the format.
There was a time when Indian batsmen had problems in facing pace and swing in overseas conditions. Now do you think, most of the Indian batters have been able to address the issue?
We played well in South Africa. We played Australia well in the last series. Short balls, especially, have never been a problem. We all are well equipped, and we know what kind of shots we have. Every batsman is different from each other and their style is completely different. Our preparation will be the key before going to England. I am sure we will prepare ourselves really well before the Test series and perform there.
Will the success in South Africa give you the confidence when the side boards the flight to England?
South Africa and England are two different environments. But yes, the mindset will be positive. Ultimately, confidence is the key and as a cricketer, if you are confident, you can do well anywhere in the world. I think it is important to have that positive mindset and the intent. Be it in India or abroad, it is all about the intent and how you deal with it mentally. That is important. Skills come later. Everyone’s skills are comparatively equal, but it is all about how you adjust mentally.
In the next year, what are your targets?
I generally go series by series and match-by-match. The World Cup is my goal and doing well for my country and playing the role of a match-winner for my nation is the ultimate goal.
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