“Life is not about how hard of a hit you can give; it’s about how many you can take and still keep moving forward.” Those are lines from one of the installments of the famous American Rocky franchise that showcased the story of a boxer who went the distance, conquering all obstacles life threw at him.
One of India’s batting mainstays, Ajinkya Rahane, would probably fit into that quote perfectly. He may not necessarily be as intimidating a persona or have the brawn like Rocky, but both characters have a couple of things in common - determination to excel and a mental poise that enables them to go through the grind, do all that it takes, numb the emotions and focus on the job at hand. All for one final motive - success.
Success hasn’t come easy to Rahane by any stretch of imagination. His is a wonderful story of a small town boy who had a dream of making it big and the vigour to shine in a sport that he loved more than anything and anyone else. Having gone through the ranks and been patient in pursuit of success, Rahane admits he has learnt the importance of putting mind over matter. It is in this exclusive chat with bcci.tv that we try to explore the mental side of Rahane & the reason behind the calm that he calls his mode of aggression.
Did you ever imagine this day in your life where you would be representing India, playing in the World Cup and be one of India’s batting mainstays?
It is surreal (pauses). When I started playing cricket I was just 9 years old and the only thing I heard while growing up was about India being crowned champions in the 1983 World Cup. I couldn’t watch those matches on television at that time. I started following the World Cup since 1996 and from then on have watched almost all India matches with keen interest. Those matches inspired in me a feeling to represent India on the grandest of stages one day. And, when India lifted the World cup in 2011, that burning desire inside me increased. As a youngster who had developed a passion for cricket, my first dream was to represent India and now to be playing the World Cup is a dream come true. I am determined and excited to do well in the World Cup.
Life has not been a bed of roses for you as budding cricketer, but did you always feel you would make it big one day?
I was always sure about my ability and process. I was confident that if I dedicated myself to the game and gave it my 100 percent I would achieve my dream one day. I have never thought about long term goals in my life when it comes to cricket. My motive is always to be in the present and pay attention to my work ethic. I agree there are times when your mind begins to race ahead but I have always controlled myself and tried my best to remain in the present. Staying in the present has helped me a lot.
Is it a trait that you grasped over the years or did it come naturally?
I have learnt a lot at every stage of the game. I know for a fact that in sports, there will be ups and downs and it is up to you to handle them. When I was playing for Mumbai, I noticed my senior players managing their highs and low points in life and in the game. Now I have observed senior players in the Indian team like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni and have learnt from them to take success and failure in the same stride. How you handle those situations is what matters and will take you ahead in life. I always look to maintain the same level.
Irrespective of whether I have had a bad day or a good day on the field, I have always wanted to keep a steady head and be humble.
You spoke about learning at every stage of the game. What is that one thing that you have learnt and tried to maintain in your game?
I would say consistency and positivity. My international journey in cricket started when I made my debut for India in a T20 game against England. That was the first time I got a taste of international cricket. I scored 61 in that game but I realized that even if you get enough runs in the beginning of your career, you need to be consistent with it.
Take for instance my Test debut. Though I was in the squad on most tours, I wasn’t a part of the eleven initially. But, sitting on the sidelines I used the time productively. I was getting to observe the best in the game and look at their routine. That is something that is helping me now. I have always been positive. With every match and every tour you learn minute things about your psyche and cricketing techniques. How you channelise your thoughts and bring all the positivity in your game to the fore is when the real challenge begins.
So, mental flexibility is also very important isn’t it?
Absolutely. You talk a lot about adjustments in batting techniques for different conditions but I feel the biggest adjustment you need to make is of the mind. If the mind can adjust to the conditions, then your batting technique will adapt on its own. Your mind needs to be flexible and get adjusted to different conditions. We have been here for a long time now and we’re playing good cricket at the moment. The experiences that we have had over the past few months here will help our mind to mould into the tournament. The challenge is to use those experiences and train the mind to get the desired results. Personally, I have learnt a lot on this tour and I am sure I will be able to learn a lot more in the future tours.
On such a long tour how do you manage to keep yourself mentally fresh?
We are all professional players and you cannot complain about things like home sickness. If your mind gets wavered by such factors then it begins to affect your performance. I am only trying to relax my mind as much as I can and not get distracted from the ultimate goal. It is important to switch off from the game and for that I listen to music and read books to keep my mind fresh. Mental freshness is important to keep you going.
You are not someone who indulges much in verbal banter or been over expressive even when you’re provoked. How do you maintain your calm in the tensest of situations?
I have always been a shy and calm person. I realised the importance of being calm when I used to practice karate as a kid. I was involved in a lot of fights where I got punched and kicked. It trained me to be calm during those times, take those beatings but then react later. That is my strength and I don’t want to change it. Calmness works for me and helps me stay focused on my preparations and plans. Calmness gives me an idea of where I am heading. As a human being it is natural to get angry but the challenge is to control it. I counter it by being silent and it works for me. Of late I have been practicing meditation which has also helped me in being calm and focused.
Most cricketers have their little superstitions. Do you have anyl?
I was very superstitious a couple of years back but not so much now. I realised that being superstitious only messes with your head. If there are certain routines you follow before a game and one fine day something goes wrong in that routine then it keeps playing on your mind and affects your performance. Your mind needs to be free instead of thinking about other unnecessary things. There are still small routines that I do before walking out to bat but nothing drastic. I try to be as free as possible before I walk out to bat.
Do you get nervous when you get to your nineties? Does the three-figure mark play in your mind?
When I got out on 96 in South Africa, I realised the value of those four runs. But the problem was I was thinking about the 100 at that time and it messed up my mind. When I went to New Zealand and I was batting in the 90s, I wanted to play ball by ball instead of thinking about the milestone and it worked for me. I was batting in the middle-order at that time. After that I spoke to MS Dhoni about batting lower down the order and channelizing your thoughts while batting in that position. It was a good learning experience. I realised that understanding the situation is very important and you need to be attacking and defensive as per the situation and be clear in your thought process.
You have been shuffled in the batting order, how do you prepare your mind to bat at different positions?
You need to be flexible and I am ready to bat at any number. You need to have an open mind. The technique remains the same irrespective of the number you are batting at. The mind needs to be flexible and positive to be able to bat anywhere. If the mind is positive then it automatically adapts to the situation. When I bat at no. 4 or 5 my mind immediately goes to strike rotations and scoring options according to the situations. I always have positive thoughts in my mind and speak to myself about it.
Over the years, have you managed to read the game better as well?
I could say so but I still have a long way to go. As a batsman, you need to think like a bowler and vice versa. If you can do that you can read the game better. It is an ability that I learnt with the Rajasthan Royals where I played under Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid. Warne always used to bring about different ideas on the field and think about ways to get the batsmen out. Watching Dravid Sir play, I used to ask him about his thought process and he stressed on thinking not just as a batsmen but as a bowler as well. Having played under two different captains has helped me in my game.
Having been Down Under for quite a while now are there any batting specifics that you are working on?
I have been working on shot selections. I have been working on shots that I am uncomfortable playing so that I can score even off them if the opposition has a different field placed for me. When you play certain shots, again there are mind games that you play with your opposition. There is risk involved but you need to take them.
The boundaries here are wider and have a different angle and the inside-out shots work. I want to try different shots and play according to my strengths. If the opposition sets fields then I don’t want to play in their hands. Instead I want to look at different scoring areas, thus opening up a range of other shots. You need to have umpteen shot making options to be successful. My aim is to give a hundred percent in every practice session and do my process diligently. If I do that, I believe the results will follow.