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Exclusive! Ajinkya Rahane on Kohli, Kumble, the Windies

June 30, 2016 10:38 IST

'Virat and I have good understanding in the middle.'
'The West Indies is a good team and we all respect them.'
'Grabbing the momentum will be key and that is why the start of the series is very important.'

Ajinkya Rahane

IMAGE: Ajinkya Rahane celebrates his century in the fourth Test against South Africa in Delhi, December 6, 2015. Photograph: BCCI

Having scored Test centuries in New Zealand, England, Australia, Sri Lanka and India -- and nineties in South Africa and Bangladesh -- India's batting mainstay Ajinkya Rahane is confident of another good showing when the team begins its new season with a four-Test series in the West Indies next month.

The Mumbai right-hander, who idolises the great Rahul Dravid, is the new 'Wall' of the Indian team, with his ability to consistently deliver under pressure, especially in difficult conditions overseas.

'Jinks' has played 17 of his 22 Tests away from home and scored 4 hundreds and 7 fifties from them, for a tally of 1,345 runs and an impressive average of 46.

The 28 year old, who was appointed vice-captain for the Windies tour, hit a century in each innings of the fourth Test against South Africa in Delhi in December.

Harish Kotian/ caught up with Rahane to find out how he is preparing for the Caribbean tour, his batting and bonding with Captain Virat Kohli.

You had a long break after the IPL (Indian Premier League). How did you keep fit during the time off from the game?

After the IPL I trained for a week to 10 days. It was just in the gym. I did not bat at all after the IPL, I was just in the gym; some recovery sessions, some pool sessions, some work-outs to keep my rhythm going.

It is important to get into that zone, even if you are not playing and having a break.

It is important to keep that rhythm going all the time because my body is used to a particular schedule and a particular training programme.

It is important to stick to that all the time, whether it is active rest, whether you do pool sessions or recovery sessions.

I had a break of around six days; it was complete off-time. I resumed my training from the 15th of this month (June).

'I am the sort of guy who when Virat comes to me with a question I should be ready with an answer.'

It is important to use your breaks, make most of the time that you get. This break was important because we had been playing cricket for a long time. We have a long season coming up.

This break was good. I was able to give more time to my fitness. Overall, it was very good and refreshing for me.

There is this fitness culture in the Indian team. Players pay attention to their fitness levels during the off-season. Is it helping?

It is important to be fit all the time. Everyone in the team is aware of the importance of the same.

If you want to play for a long time, and if you want to play consistently, then fitness is the important factor.

It is something which is in your control and which you can work on. Overall, there are many benefits of fitness: You are flexible on the field, your stamina is good and your concentration level is also good.

As a professional cricketer, it is important to look after your fitness, after your body and your diet.

I normally spend an hour -- not more than that -- in the gym, or around 40, 50 minutes if I do a running session. That is my normal routine if I am in the gym or if I am on the field doing a running session.

It is important to know your body as well... as to what suits your body or what exercises you can do. It is not compulsory that you should go to the gym daily for a couple of hours. I don't believe in that.

Even if you do 30, 40 minutes in the gym it should be very intensive.

This will be your first trip to the West Indies. How are you preparing for it?
Do you train on wickets similar to the ones in the Caribbean or by talking to former players or coaches?

I am practicing indoors (at the Mumbai Cricket Association's Sharad Pawar Indoor Cricket Academy) in Mumbai because it is raining.

Whatever I have heard, some of the wickets in the West Indies have good bounce.

I was preparing accordingly. I was practicing indoors, with a rubber ball. I was trying to simulate the conditions we might encounter in the West Indies.

I was practicing indoors, but was preparing how to bat on bouncy wickets, on my coordination, things like that.

I remember going to the West Indies with the India 'A' team around 3, 4 years back. I feel at that time the wickets were slightly different.

It will be a challenging series because the West Indies is a good team and we all respect them. It is important to play to your strengths wherever you go.

I believe grabbing the momentum will be the key and that is why the start of the series will be very important.

Ajinkya Rahane

IMAGE: Ajinkya Rahane in action. Photograph: BCCI

You are one of our most consistent batsmen overseas. What was the key to your good run overseas?

Preparation is the key for me. Whatever I have learnt so far is that if you prepare well, if you focus on things which you can control, other things will fall into place automatically.

For me, preparation has been important always, because I don't believe in thinking about the results.

I believe that if you take care of the preparation, then the results will follow automatically.

More importantly, your mindset has to be good when you play at the highest level. I always believe that whenever I go into any series I should be well prepared before the start of it.

When we get into a series, say 2, 3 days before the start of the first match, I don't want to think too much about my technique or anything else.

For me, those things must be taken care of during my practice sessions, which I do well in advance, around 15, 20 days before the start of the series.

I always want my mind to be very clear heading into a series. I trust my ability, I trust myself completely, but, more importantly, I trust my preparation.

'I never set targets. I like to go with the flow and stay in the moment. I believe that if you set targets then somewhere your mind goes into the future and you tend to forget the present.'

Is mental preparation a big part of batting, especially when playing Tests in tough conditions overseas?

The mental aspect is very important everywhere, whether you play in India or whether you play abroad. It is very important when you play at the highest level.

Yes, technique is important, but apart from that your mental toughness, how quickly you can assess the conditions and adjust to it, is important. You need to assess the conditions, the state of the game and play according to that all the time.

You hit a century in each innings in the Test against South Africa in December. Though you did well overseas, you did not have a good record at home before that series.
Was it a big relief to get Test hundred in India?

That was just a number for me. I was batting well in the Tests before that and knew it was just a matter of spending time in the middle and applying myself at the crease without thinking of the outcome.

Before the Delhi Test I spent good time in the nets. After the Nagpur Test ended I went back to the stadium and spent a few hours batting.

Even in Delhi, before the Test, I was just batting and focussing on my defence because I wanted to spend time in the middle. In the nets I was focussing on that and not on playing shots.

I think that is what helped me; the determination, discipline really helped me in that Delhi Test.

How do you adjust to batting up and down the order? Do you prepare differently to bat in different positions?

No, not at all. When you bat at different numbers, the technique doesn't change, only your mindset is different. The situation is different when you bat in different positions.

Reading the situation is the key. I really learnt a lot when I batted in different numbers and my aim is to keep learning all the time.

Being named vice-captain of the Test team must be a big confidence boost. Do you enjoy extra responsibility?
Are you someone who will walk up to Virat Kohli with your suggestions during a Test?

It is a big confidence boost and I would like to thank the BCCI for believing in me and giving me this responsibility.

I love taking responsibility; it will be a good challenge and I am really excited about this.

I am the sort of guy who when Virat comes to me with a question I should be ready with an answer.

I have observed in the nets that you and Virat talk a lot, discuss batting and also bat close to each other. There is a great bond between you guys...

We do talk a lot, not only about batting, but about cricket, about what we can do to improve as a team, as individuals.

We also talk a lot during nets sessions and when travelling. It is important to have that discussion; you can improve your game. Eventually, that will help our team.

IMAGE: Virat Kohli, left, celebrates with Ajinkya Rahane after scoring a century in the fourth Test against Australia, Sydney, January 8, 2015. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Having such a bonding helps to read each other's mind, like what we saw during the Melbourne Test in December 2014 when you went after Mitchell Johnson, who was having a go at Virat Kohli.
Was that a conscious decision to attack Johnson and help take the pressure off Kohli at the other end?

It is important to help your partner when you are batting. It is also important to trust each other completely. The communication between the two batsmen is also vital. You must back your partner's mindset and game.

I think Virat Kohli and I have good communication and understanding between us in the middle.

'People know Anil Kumble as a fighter. I remember how he played with a bandaged jaw after being struck and bowled despite the pain. His fighting attitude will surely motivate the team.'

In that Test I just felt like going after him (Johnson). I was confident and I was batting really well.

I told Virat I am getting a feel that I should go after the bowlers. He told me to play the way I wanted to and back my instincts.

That confidence I got from Virat helped me a lot. I just followed my instincts and played my shots.

India has a long season ahead. 18 Tests, including 13 at home. It's a great chance for you and the young Indian team to prove your mettle.

These are exciting times for us, but it is important to focus on the current season. We are going to the West Indies and it is important to focus on that.

After that series we can think about the next one and so on.

Right now, our focus is the West Indies, which is a good team at home and has some very dangerous players.

Every international tour is a new challenge because every country has its conditions and challenges.

I am excited about this season, especially the 13 Tests at home. I am looking forward to it.

How special is playing Tests in India?

Playing a Test anywhere is special. A Test match is a different format, it tests your skills, your patience, your fitness, your mindset all the time.

Playing in India you get so much crowd support. It is a special feeling when you represent your country in all formats, especially when playing at home.

You must be happy with the selection of your Mumbai team mate Shardul Thakur, who played a lot of domestic cricket before making it to the Test side.

I am really happy for Shardul. He has done really well for Mumbai in domestic cricket. He has been consistent and got rewarded for the same. I am sure he will do well at the international level.

Did you ever play under Coach Anil Kumble?

This will be my first time under him. I am really excited that a great player like him has taken over as the coach.

He has so much experience of playing at the highest level and has won so many matches for the country.

People know him as a fighter. I remember how he played with a bandaged jaw after being struck and still came back to bowl after that despite the pain.

His fighting attitude will surely motivate the team. It is a big thing for the Indian team to have a legend like him as the coach.

You have spoken about not looking too far ahead, but are you one who sets targets for himself at the start of a season?

I never set targets. I like to go with the flow and stay in the moment. I believe that if you set targets then somewhere your mind goes into the future and you tend to forget the present.

For me it is important to stay in the present and give my best in that moment.

Harish Kotian