India could have won Test series in South Africa: Ajinkya Rahane

Don’t mistake Ajinkya Rahane’s calm demeanour for lack of aggression. “I am calm by nature. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be aggressive while batting,” said the India Test vice-captain. Recently he was picked for just Rs.7 lakh for Mumbai North in the Mumbai T20 league, but Rahane says passion for the game, not money, that matters. That is why Rahane is fine with the India team management’s decision to drop him for the first two Tests in South Africa despite being vice-captain. In a chat, Rahane looks back at the momentous series, his return to Rajasthan Royals, and how being a team man matters above everything else.

Are you excited returning to Rajasthan Royals with Shane Warne as mentor?

I am really excited, happy to be back with the Royals. I am determined to do well. The team was like a family and now we are back again. It’s a very positive feeling. The best thing about Shane Warne is he is very instinctive. He takes decisions that no one can anticipate and has a solid cricket brain.

Will you be missing Rahul Dravid in the Royals dugout?

Definitely. He is my role model. We played together and then he was mentor. His inputs helped us a lot as a team as well as individually. I have learnt so many things from him.

You are not a regular in T20s for India. Are you being labelled?

I don’t think so. This is a team management decision, so I will always respect that. You also can’t ignore the amount of cricket being played nowadays. The rotation policy is good for the team as so many boys are getting opportunities. It’s also giving us options. At the same time, it motivates me to improve in T20s and make my place in the team. The Mumbai Premier League and IPL are chances for me to regain my place.

Do you think India should have won the Test series in South Africa?

What I can say as vice-captain is yes, we played really well, we could have won the Test series. Our bowlers were excellent in those conditions and taking 60 wickets is no mean feat. We must also not forget that South Africa played better cricket, especially in Tests. They didn’t let our batsmen settle down. If we had a good partnership in the first two Tests, we could have won the series. Had we won in all three formats, our tour would have been complete.

Is it satisfying India won the only Test you played in, and contributed?

When I got to know I was going to play, the only thing I was thinking was how to contribute. I wasn’t thinking about myself. It was an opportunity for me to become a hero. I was sitting alone in the dressing room, visualising about my batting and shot selection. That really helped me. It motivated me to do well because I was really hungry and determined. I was waiting for my opportunity. I was very sure about my plan, my ability, and I was really confident.

Were you nervous?

Everyone gets nervous. It shows you care about the game. It’s good to be nervous. If you are not nervous, you are careless. Winning is everything for me. It’s not all about getting big hundreds. That 48 was as good as hundred or 150.

You batted with Virat at a very vital time in the second innings of the Wanderers Test. How significant was that partnership?

We enjoy each other’s company on the field, whether we bat together or stand in the slips. We discuss a lot of cricket, talk about our plans and goals during partnerships. We were enjoying ourselves during that partnership. We were trying to be positive from the word go. Surviving was not an option there. Our mindset changed during that partnership. After that, Bhuvi and I got some runs. That changed the game and got the momentum going for us.

How detached did you have to be from the decision-making process of dropping you for the first two Tests?

See, it’s a team game. Sometimes, you have to respect the decisions because they are good for the team. My nature is such that if someone knows what’s best for the team and is deciding accordingly as captain, I will respect that. And I respected that. I never think about myself.

How is the working relationship between you and Virat?

It’s very good. Whatever we think as captain and vice-captain, it’s for the good of the team. Behind every decision taken by the captain, there is always a specific thought. If something’s on my mind, I go up to him and share it. We respect each other’s decisions. Our thinking is like that. It’s a team sport so you have to stay together and back each other.

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