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Playing County cricket has been a good experience, says India Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane

Ajinkya Rahane is an introvert and doesn’t talk much. Whenever there is a lean period, one will find him hitting the nets or warming up at the gym. “The process is very important,” he says.

During the off-season, Rahane usually trains at the Bandra-Kurla Sports Complex in Mumbai. But this time around, Rahane, the vice-captain of India’s Test team, has been travelling across the United Kingdom, featuring in the County Championship for Hampshire.

It has been a mixed bag outing for him so far, but Rahane, 31, admits that playing County cricket has indeed been a life-changing experience.

“In County cricket, you have to manage everything on your own — your travel, you need to carry your luggage by yourself. Sometimes even you need to do laundry” he says.

Sportstar spoke to Rahane at his training facility in Southampton. In a candid chat, the batsman talks vividly about the county experience, getting axed as Rajasthan Royals captain and more…

This is for the first time you have featured in the county championship. How has been the experience of playing for Hampshire?

Personally and also in terms of my game, it has been a good experience so far. In England, the weather plays an important role and your game plan (and pattern) changes accordingly. In the first two games, the weather was different to what it is now. Here, all the club grounds are different from each other and it’s been an experience playing here. I have enjoyed a lot.

You spoke about the weather changes. What are the lessons that you have learnt from the county stint? And how do you plan to use them once you are back home and prepare for a long season?

As a batsman, it is important to spend time in the middle. The more time you spend at the crease, the better it is for you. It makes you more confident. And that’s what I am looking at. I am not thinking too much about the runs. Yes, runs are important but if you spend time in the middle, runs will come automatically. The practice sessions are also important.

I am trying to challenge myself with different types of practice sessions. I am just looking to enjoy the process. As a batsman, if you can keep things simple in the English conditions — playing close to your body, playing it as late as possible and reading the lines — things will fall in place. I am talking to my team-mates, who are the local guys, and learning from them. I would like to take home as much as possible from the experience I gain here.

But the atmosphere is completely different in county cricket as compared to international cricket or IPL. How do you cope with the environment?

It’s kind of different, but I think at some point these things are important as they keep you grounded. In county cricket, you have to manage everything on your own — your travel, you need to carry your luggage by yourself. Sometimes even you need to do laundry!

It keeps you grounded and humble because you know what the reality is. As a cricketer, you get to learn so many things on the field. Even off the field, there are a few things which are important and it’s been a great learning experience.

But how did this materialise? Did you approach Hampshire or was it the other way round?

Hampshire came up with the proposal. After the World Cup selection, I told them yes, because there’s no cricket in India at this time of the year. It’s only indoors. But I wanted to play cricket, and get better as a batsman. So, I took up the offer.

You came to Hampshire after a gruelling IPL season. How was the shift, mentally?

Every time as a cricketer, as a human being, you learn something or the other. This time too, it was a different experience and a new learning for me. Personally, what was important was to trust my ability. When I lost my captaincy at Rajasthan Royals, it was important to stay positive. I was calm because cricket is my passion. I wanted to enjoy my game, because whatever was happening around me was not in my control.

I always respect the decision the team takes. But as motivation, I told myself that no one can stop me from playing cricket. So, I just wanted to enjoy my game and still be a team-man. I gave my inputs and decided to help the team. It helped me stay positive. You learn a lot when you are not selfish and when you are putting your team first. I was on the right track. It was a different experience and I learnt a lot.

You led Rajasthan Royals for two seasons. How disappointing was it to be replaced as a captain?

May be, we can discuss it some other time, some other day… (laughs)

But even after playing international cricket for so long, you face uncertain times in the IPL. There are fears of getting dropped. How does it affect you?

I have always been a team-man. It was a completely different experience, but then the mindset was to take it positively because it was not in my control. In IPL, the owners actually take all the decisions — be it captaincy or other matters.

I did not say anything to anyone, but I wanted to give my best and banked on my abilities even in that situation. That helped. During that phase, my wife and my friends backed me a lot. So, my self-confidence was right there.

Talking about international cricket, you have been a bit here and there for the last few months. Despite getting starts, you have failed to convert them into big totals. How do you see it?

You are asking this because I could not convert 50s into 100s! (Laughs).

For me, preparation is very important and it’s also about getting into the zone. The 30s, 40s or the 50s will convert to big scores, if you stick to your basics. It is important as a batsman to convert starts into big scores once you are set. But I don’t think there’s a problem anywhere.

You always talk about preparation. How does one prepare ahead of a long and gruelling season?

Just like on-field preparation, there is off-the-field preparation as well. It deals with mental preparation, physical preparation, training… you got to have some plan for every aspect. Nowadays, training is very important, so it is extremely crucial to have a plan for it. If you have to play at the highest level for long, you have to maintain these things; recovery is also very important.

I take everything very seriously, because for a cricketer, gym, running and recovery sessions are the key. I always do that rather than thinking about the outcome and results. The small things like game-plan and my attitude towards the game will definitely remain important.

This is going to be an important season for the Indian team, with the World Test championship beginning right after the World Cup. How are you preparing?

It’s going to be challenging, but we have to prepare ourselves well. Personally, I need to be right there. Every series and tour is challenging. It is important to respect your opponent and staying true to your preparations. In the end, that’s what matters.

Before every season, you make it a point to spend some time with Sachin Tendulkar and take his tips. This time too, you met him in Southampton. What are the things that you discussed?

Meeting Sachin paaji is always an experience. You get to learn so many things. This time we did not get to spend too much time — we were here for close to two hours. He was happy to see me playing County and felt that this being a different pattern, should benefit me. I get to learn a lot from him.

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