Ajinkya Rahane’s meteoric rise is a testament to his multifaceted personality because at heart he’s simple and fun-loving. And, a hustler. He opens up about his career, personal life, his love for music and Wada Pav.
Words by Samreen Khoja | Photography by Sameer Belvalkar
Styling: Misaha | Hair & Make-up: Sonal Burde
Assistant Photographer: Rahul Karandikar | Location: JW Marriott Hotel, Pune
It is a sun-soaked day in Pune and Ajinkya Rahane walks in on set dressed in sweatpants. Introvert by his own admission, Ajinkya greets me with a wide smile. To be honest, Ajinkya’s flamboyant colleagues have enjoyed more attention, but he is unaffected. With his love for the sport, he has quietly become one of Indian cricket’s biggest stars. As I sat on set sipping a cup of cappuccino and munching on cookies with Ajinkya, I started to think about how well we know of Ajinkya on the field, his records and his achievements. So why don’t we get to know the man sans his team colours, sans his bat, sans the cricket ball and away from the flood lights.
“I started playing cricket when I was a teenager and I fell in love with the sport. My biggest dream was to play for my country and that will be my biggest achievement,” he tells me. “I am here because of my parents. My family has sacrificed a lot for me so it was my dream to do something for them. My father would drop me to Dombivili station and follow me through another compartment behind me to make sure that I could travel safely. I remember my mom used to walk 6-7kms with the cricket kit on her shoulder because we couldn’t afford rickshaw rides. I remember and am grateful for all the sacrifices they have made for me,” added Ajinkya.
And in that one statement he reveals so much more about himself than he probably imagines. When you meet a cricketer who has broken many records, it is natural to assume that he would want to highlight every achievement of his to hook a thumb at his past detractors, but no, Ajinkya Rahane is not your regular cricketer, he counts the chance to be a part of team Blue as his biggest achievement.
I detect a strange lack of ego here for a cricketer of his stature. So when I asked him to describe himself off the field, he puts it in just two words. “Simple and fun-loving.” For a journalist, who writes about 3,000 words for a story, his two word reply took me by surprise.
While Ajinkya appeared to me as a shy person, he definitely opened up once he felt comfortable. When I brought out a pink double-breasted blazer and told Ajinkya that this is what I want him to wear for the first shot, he looked at me in surprise as if telling me ‘are you serious? Why would you want to put me in a pink suit’ but then he agreed, and I heaved a sigh of relief! Phew! I was surprised by Ajinkya’s ease to face the camera, his willingness to try new looks, even if it was something that he hasn’t worn before and take instructions.
With some courage I told Ajinkya that I always perceived him to be timid, but after seeing him on this shoot, I feel there is more to him than his shy demeanor. He let out a laugh and brushed me off by saying, “Haha! I wouldn’t say I am shy and timid. I think I am calm and not too expressive about my emotions. I love expressing myself when I bat,” and with that he opened yet another window into his private life.
I quickly jump in to ask Ajinkya about his fitness routine and diet, something that many here would like to know, given Ajinkya’s obvious athleticism and stamina on field. “Diet is a very important part of my being. Fitness wise I do strength sessions three days a week and the other three days I do my running sessions which includes speed endurance, long and distance running. I focus on my diet by planning what time to eat, how many meals in day and what sort of meals I can have. So both fitness and diet are important,” he says.
As we move onto the next change, Ajinkya looks dapper in a Navy blue and burgundy chequered suit, “I always stick to plain looking suits you know, no patterns whatsoever,” he tells me. I am amused by this statement and gave him a wide dimpled smile and continued with my conversation. So what is a day like for you off the field? I ask. “A day-off for me is spending quality time with my family and relaxing at home. I do like to travel and explore new cities. Music too has been a constant companion and my playlist completely depends on my mood and it keeps changing. I do watch movies but that is usually on flights or when I get some time off from cricket. I have always admired the movies that feature Aamir Khan,” he says.
Post lunch while we were still shooting, I had the opportunity to meet Ajinkya’s wife Radhika and their daughter Aarya. As soon as she saw her father, Aarya leaped into his arms exclaiming ‘Daddy’. The bond that Ajinkya shares with his daughter is quite evident and I was a spectator to their totes adorbs conversation. When I asked this dotting father about the bond he shares with Aarya, he said, “I am a hands-on father. This lockdown came as a blessing in disguise as I got to spend time with my daughter and watch her grow. I even told Radhika that I want to do everything that you do for Aarya.” A testimony to this bond is Ajinkya’s instagram profile that is filled with images of him and Aarya doing things or just lounging around.
While we are on the father-daughter subject, something that bonds my father and me is the Big C… yes, it’s Cricket. My father loves the sport and I would watch it with him since a very young age. He would explain to me all the rules and that got me hooked onto the game, it was just our way of spending some father-daughter time. So, this interview will be incomplete if I didn’t ask Ajinkya anything about the Big C, and also because my father told me (read: threatened in a stern voice) to not come back home if I didn’t ask Ajinkya about the historic Border-Gavaskar Test series that took place in Australia this year, where he emerged as the ‘HERO’.
Ajinkya made his test debut in 2013 against Australia, it did not go well, which made him to lose a spot in the playing XI and become the 12th man sitting on the sidelines and serving drinks, but for Ajinkya it was a learning curve. “I look back at that phase as a time where I learnt a lot. I made my debut in test cricket after playing 4-5 years of domestic cricket and getting a chance to observe how senior cricketers like Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman, etc prepare. As a youngster it was an invaluable experience, to be able to watch them, and actually discuss about cricket. I worked hard on my game to make sure that when I got an opportunity to play, I was ready. That time taught me a lot,” he said.
For a man who had spent many a tour and series warming up the bench, carrying drinks, wondering when his opportunity will come, he has taken his chance with both hands, even though it arrived in the most difficult of conditions to bat in. From that forgettable test in 2013, to a test match that will go down in history a lot has changed for Ajinkya. He says, “The Indian team is ranked No.1 in test cricket and I am happy to have been a part of the team’s journey since my test debut and contributed to the team’s success whenever I could. Personally, I have tried to improve my game every time and grow as a cricketer, because in international cricket you need to be able to adapt to various situations.”
While I watched history being made from the comfort of my home, watching the test match with my father, I wondered what would have been Ajinkya’s mindset when he got a call to be the stand-in captain. There was no Virat Kohli, and no Rohit Sharma, so when I asked Ajinkya about this, he said, “Mindset was very clear. We were in Australia to win the series and play good cricket. That’s how the Indian team wants to play cricket and whether the captain is Virat or myself, our team’s focus still remains that. My role was to make sure that I back each player, communicate with them about what I expect from them and we go out and express ourselves in Australia.”
Frustration is inevitable during a phase when you are not in form and Ajinkya manages to stay positive even then. “Ups and downs are part of life, but it is important to live in the moment. I think staying positive comes naturally to me. I have been following the Vedanta philosophy for the past six-seven years. It has been helping me a lot when it comes to coping with success and failure, how to deal with pressure situations, how you can be calm and positive, and what is the bigger picture.” He further reveals the secret of his fine temperament and composure. “I think I get that from my parents. Both have a very calm, balanced approach to life and I think that’s how all of the children in the house have been raised. Of course, the temperament while playing is something that you need to work on in international cricket and each player has his own way to work on it.” And yet another streak shines through, revealing Ajinkya to be a man who would be able to see the silver lining if you handed him a storm cloud.
I couldn’t help but ask about his cricketing icon and trust me he idolises Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Speaking about the advice he received from them Ajinkya says, “Yes, both Rahul Bhai and Sachin Paji have been my biggest inspirations growing up and I feel fortunate that I got an opportunity to play alongside them. Rahul Dravid made me realise that I have the ability to take responsibility as a lead batsman of our team and that gave me huge confidence in my ability. Sachin Tendulkar told me to continue working on my game with the same passion that he had seen initially when I got into the Indian team. He said that he has observed me closely and told me that results will follow if I continue to work hard.” Nothing usual about this man, is there?
As the hour draws close I ask him about an inning that he considers his career's best “Every inning that I have played for my country is important. It is difficult to say that a particular innings was the best innings, for me, contribution for the country in a winning course is important. So every innings whether it’s a 100 or 30/40 not out is important.”
Speaking of the lessons that he learnt on the field and then use them in everyday life, he says, “Sports teaches you a lot. Every day you learn something new. I use those things in my day-to-day life as well. Sport most importantly teaches you that each day is a new day and that you need to move on and not get carried away by your wins or loses.”
Ajinkya Rahane is very different from the man we are accustomed to seeing on the telly. Head held high, but feet firmly planted on the ground. Before leaving Ajinkya got me hooked on to a song that is part of his playlist called ‘Remember the Name by Fort Minor’ and I feel it is apt to end this story with a verse from that foot-thumping number…
This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name