In Durban in December, Ajinkya Rahane had gone looking for a hundred, played a crude hoick with No. 11 for company and been dismissed for 96. At the Basin Reserve on Saturday (February 15), he was 90 when Zaheer Khan, the No. 10, joined him, but the quick learner that he is, Rahane put all thoughts of a maiden century out of his mind. The result, a sparkling 118, only the sixth century by an Indian No. 7 in an overseas Test.
“During the 90s, when me and Zaheer Khan were batting, I wasn’t thinking of my hundred,” Rahane said later. “I just told him to play the way he likes and play the way he was playing. I told him I am not thinking about my hundred. In South Africa, when I got to 96, I wanted to get that hundred because the first hundred is really special. This time, I wasn’t thinking about my hundred, I just wanted to play one ball at a time and keep as much of the strike as possible. We were eight wickets down and Zaheer was batting, so I told him I will try to play four to five balls and take single off the last ball. That really helped me because I was in the present and wasn’t thinking what’s going to happen.”
Was that lessons learnt from the near-ton in Durban? “Those four runs were really crucial at that time,” he replied. “I know how crucial four runs are now, because a 100 is a 100. When you get out on 96, it comes in the 50s column. I just wanted to be there as long as possible and play my shots. I told Zak that I will try and back my ability and try and play my shots; whatever will happen will happen. I don’t know how to explain (my feelings after reaching the hundred). A Test hundred is always special. My first hundred, I will remember it for a long time. It’s a special hundred for me, I am really happy.”
One of the men from whom Rahane has benefited hugely is Rahul Dravid, his captain for three years at Rajasthan Royals. “I have been following him from my childhood,” said Rahane. “He is my role model and I have played with him in the Indian team and also with Rajasthan Royals, so I really learnt a lot, on and off the field. I just want to thank Rahul bhai. And also Sachin (Tendulkar) paaji because during his last two Test matches, he told me about my batting. He said, ‘I have been following you, your hard work, your fitness, everything, just be patient and wait for your chance.’ So thanks to both of them.”
Rahane said his goal when he went out to bat, at 165 for 5, was to not overcomplicate his thinking. “I just wanted to take my time,” he revealed. “I wanted to play my game, continue to do whatever I have been doing in domestic cricket. The first day was really helpful for the bowlers. Today, there was a little bit help for bowlers but not that much.
“He gave me a lot of confidence because I batted with him in South Africa also,” Rahane said of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, with whom he added 120 for the seventh wicket to push India into a commanding position. “He told me to back myself, play my shots — play one ball at a time, that’s it, don’t think too much. That really helped me a lot, it gave me good confidence.”
Long before Rahane’s first hundred, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, his fellow young batsmen, had announced themselves on the world stage, but Rahane said he was not wondering when his turn would come. “When I was not playing, I was learning from them as well — what improvements they have made to their game, what kind of shots they play and how they play in different situations,” he said. “Definitely I learned a lot. I never thought that they have got hundreds and I have not got an opportunity. When I was outside, my plan was that I will learn as much as I could from everyone and improve my game.”
Rahane agreed that Test cricket was a completely different ballgame compared to domestic cricket, where he averages nearly 60 after 68 games. “There is definitely a lot of difference between domestic and international cricket. In domestic, we know that if we defend one or two deliveries, the bowlers will give us loose ones. Here, they bowled patiently and even a batsman has to have that patience because you have to wait for that loose ball in international cricket,” he said. “And when you get it, it is good if you capitalise on it. I was focusing on getting them to bowl to my strength. That plan was successful. When they were bowling outside off, my plan was to keep leaving. Even if they bowl there all day, I will leave all day. Finally they had to bowl to my plan.”
Summing up the game – New Zealand still trail India by 222 with nine wickets standing – Rahane said, “We have taken a good lead which is very important. New Zealand is under pressure. There is not too much help (from the pitch) but there is certainly some of it for the bowlers. We have a seven to eight (nine, actually) overs old ball. If we bowl in good areas tomorrow morning… We will have to be patient with the bowling, and I am sure the bowlers will do well.”