Ajju to Ajinkya Rahane, Meet India's new Cricket Vice-Captain
Mumbai: When he started his cricket, the local trains here did not have monitors screening Charlie Chaplin, few trains had the speakers announcing the next stop and the crowd – needless to say – jumped into the worn-out coaches like a soldier enters the battlefield. India cricketer Ajinkya Rahane braved them, travelling from the Dombivli-Mulund area to the town side for the sake of cricket. The rakes are plush today, a recorded voice declares, “The next station, Mumbai CST,” and with time, Rahane is also the vice-captain of the Indian Test team about to tour West Indies in July.
He struck a good partnership with Test skipper Virat Kohli of late; the duo disturbed the scorers more than often in both ODI and Tests. It will be interesting to observe how their brains dictate terms within the camp.
After a long time, the Indian cricket team think tank will flaunt two young leaders – both are 27. Two decades ago, Sachin Tendulkar was one of the youngest to lead the side.
“It is a new responsibility. I enjoy taking responsibility. I'm looking forward to the series in West Indies,” said Rahane, few minutes before an award ceremony here on Monday.
The right-handed batsman, a khadoos (the local lingo for a Mumbai cricketer who is a fighter), is calm and flexible. He never makes a fuss about his batting order, bends to the team’s interests.
But one shouldn’t go by his gentle demeanour.
Former Australia speedster Mitchell Johnson took him for granted and hurled few short balls at him which brought his fiend to the forefront. He pulled most of the deliveries as an appetizer for the boundary rope.
He has hundreds against most of the Test playing nations barring the Caribbeans.
West Indies, two-time champions in the T20I format, is inexperienced in whites, after the retirement of legends Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and earlier, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.
“They have a young team but they need to be respected. Every country has its own challenges. One needs to get acclimatised and play normal cricket, that’s our plan,” added Rahane.
‘The Wall’ reincarnated
Experts often call him the new-age Rahul Dravid. It could be true to a certain extent as Rahane groomed himself under the former India skipper during their stint with now-defunct IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals.
Dravid quietly took the Mumbai cricketer under his wings and the fact that the latter calls ‘The Wall’ his mentor is no surprise.
On his 43rd birthday, Rahane wished him like a student to his teacher.
“I have been really lucky to play alongside with you. I have really learnt many things from you, from your batting, and in general about my life. Thank you so much for whatever inputs you gave me. It is really helping me and I am sure it will help me in my future,” he said in a video message.
There is an uncanny similarity between the two of them as far as their careers are concerned.
Both of them scored overseas hundreds before smashing one in the home soil.
Dravid scored against South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Rahane scored in Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
Dravid averaged better on foreign soil, so does Rahane – his current average is 39.14 in India and 46.37 overseas.
He plays the sheet anchor, similar to what Dravid did alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.
“I get a high performing everywhere, the venue doesn’t matter. I don’t think about results. If one respects the conditions and opponents, results will follow,” pointed Rahane, who joined Dravid in the elite list of two tons in the same Test after the twin hundreds against South Africa last year.
When India toured the Caribbean island in the nineties, Walsh and Ambrose ran through the batting order. West Indies, devoid of quality Test cricketers in the recent past, are rebuilding.
Rahane, from his past experience with India ‘A’, recalled the quality of pitches in Barbados and Jamaica.
“They have few tall guys. The pitch in Jamaica will assist them. I personally like playing on bouncy tracks. But I believe the spinners will get some help as well,” he said.
India will play the first Test at Antigua, followed by Sabina Park in Jamaica, St Lucia and Port-of-Spain.
The stadium in St Lucia has been recently named after World Cup winning skipper Darren Sammy.
“I remember watching Sachin Tendulkar bat against Walsh and Ambrose during a series. I was very young then. They didn’t bowl a single half-volley till 15 overs, hats off to Tendulkar’s patience. He stuck around; that’s why he is Tendulkar,” recalled Rahane.
He made his debut as ODI skipper in Zimbabwe last year but this season, he isn’t boarding the flight with the youngsters led by MS Dhoni.
Rahane didn’t play much limited-overs cricket for Team India this season. Hence, his omission did raise eyebrows but the lad is happy for the young bunch who will get to learn under Dhoni.
It is a good opportunity for all youngsters. The best part is Dhoni bhai is going with them. It will be a proud moment for them to play for India,” said Rahane.
Zimbabwe or West Indies, Bangladesh or UAE – the shy boy from the city of dreams seems to have fulfilled half of his desires by rubbing shoulders with legends of the sport.
If not a superstar, he is a star. He will no longer be able to take a stroll down Azad Maidan here, people in Mumbai love their ‘Ajju’.