Ajinkya Rahane took the Indian Premier League by storm with his superb batting throughout the fifth edition of the T20 tournament.
Playing for Rajasthan Royals, the Mumbai youngster proved his credentials, aggregating 560 runs in 16 matches, at an amazing strike rate of 129.33.
His sizzling, unbeaten knock of 103 against a strong Royal Challengers' bowling attack that set up a convincing 59-run victory was certainly one of the best of the tournament.
The 23-year-old played 11 ODIs and two T20 matches for India before being dropped from the team in December 2011. Now he is hoping the good showing in the IPL will pave the way for his return. And, as he says, time around he will grasp the opportunity with both hands.
In an exclusive conversation with Rediff.com's Harish Kotian, the dashing batsman reveals he is not satisfied with his showing in the IPL despite finishing among the leading scorers, and how the successful opening partnership he had with Rahul Dravid for Rajasthan Royals has enhanced his game.
You must be very happy with your showing in IPL 5, having scored 560 runs at a strike rate of 129.33, because you were not considered as someone who could make such a big impact in T20. How satisfying was it to prove people wrong?
Before the IPL started I had never imagined that I would end up scoring so many runs. Obviously, it feels good to perform well in a big tournament like the IPL, which boasts of so many top international players.
But, at the same time, I am not that satisfied, because I did not do well in the last few matches. I feel I could have performed better in those games. Therefore, I am not fully satisfied with my performance. I always evaluate my performance and look how I can improve.
Overall, it has been a good experience, but I am not satisfied.
It is not easy to score a hundred in T20s and you did against a good bowling attack of Royal Challengers Bangalore. Would you say that was one of the best innings of you career so far?
Obviously, it was one of the best innings. If you see the RCB bowling attack in that match, it had Zaheer Khan, Daniel Vettori, Muttiah Muralitharan, R Vinay Kumar among others. If you score runs against a good bowling attack you feel good about yourself.
It was a very important knock for me and I also think it was one of my best knocks so far. Before this I had scored 91 against England in an ODI in Mohali; that is also one of my favourite innings. This hundred is very special for me and will be very important for me too because scoring runs against an experienced bowling attack is a big thing.
One of the highlights of the tournament was the opening partnerships between you and Rahul Dravid; on most occassions you gave Rajasthan a blazing start by just playing proper cricketing shots and not resorting to slogs. What was the plan?
For me, just to get the chance to open the batting with a legend like Rahul Dravid was big for me.
We decided that we will just play normal shots and keep it as simple as we can. In between overs Rahulbhai always used to tell me to focus and just look to improvise on the normal cricketing shots. That way, he said, we can score runs quickly without taking too many risks.
He would always chat with me on what kind of shots to play and what my mindset should be during the match. It worked well, because we played just orthodox cricket shots and you could see the results.
How much of a learning experience was batting with a legend like Rahul Dravid? What tips did he give you?
Rahulbhai motivates you a lot when you are out there batting with him. Even during practice sessions, or in the dressing room, he can be seen talking to youngsters and inspiring them.
I have learnt a lot from him with regard to batting, not only during this year's IPL, but also in the past when we were together in the Indian team.
The one main thing he told me before the start of the IPL was that he felt I was a good batsman and doing well. He told me not to think about runs, about how many runs to score and how to score them, but focus on the present. He told me to play every ball on its merit and stay at the crease for as long as possible.
The one big thing I have learnt from him is that you should keep your game simple.
How different was Rahul Dravid's captaincy compared to Shane Warne's? Both are different in temperament as players...
I would say both are outstanding captains. They are different personalities and both have their unique style of handling things.
Both are great leaders, true legends, and it was an honour just getting a chance to play under them.
Rajasthan did not boast of many big names in this year's IPL, but had an excellent run in the tournament, narrowly missing out on the play-offs. How did the side to do so well? The team scored some upset wins and even when it lost, those games were close.
As you know, cricket is a team game and in T20 cricket if you perform on the day collectively as a team you will surely emerge on the winning side.
We at Rajasthan Royals performed as a single unit; that was the secret to our success. All of us enjoyed each other's performances and successes while at the same time trying to help each other.
The atmosphere within the team was very healthy. All got on well with each other. The team work was good because everyone contributed their bit to the team's cause which paved the way for the success we had in the tournament.
Do you feel that your good showing in the IPL has now brought you back in the selectors' radar? We have seen some players getting a chance to play for the Indian team after doing well in the IPL? You have also done well in domestic cricket over the last few years, but the IPL, as we have seen, has proved to be a bigger platform?
I think you got to perform in every match that you play. Every performance counts, whether it is a big or small tournament. I believe that the experience I got from playing domestic cricket in the last four-five years is helping me now immensely.
The way I bat in domestic cricket, I used the same approach in IPL 5, and that has helped me. I believe that whatever match you play, if you do well it helps you gain confidence and improve.
I never think that I should do well in a particular match or tournament. I am 100 percent committed to every match that I play.
The IPL is definitely a big tournament and features the top international players from across the world, so if you do well, it definitely gets noticed everywhere.
Were you disappointed on not getting a chance to play a Test match during the Test tour of Australia?
The Australian tour was a great learning experience for me despite not getting to play any Test matches.
The selection is not in my hands and it depends on the team management, so I do not think about that. I used the tour as an opportunity to learn from senior players, like Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag among others, on how bat in foreign conditions. I think that will help me in future whenever I get a chance to play there
Also, did you feel it was unfair that you were dropped after the home series against England despite performing well in your first 10 ODIs. You then scored a duck against the West Indies and were not picked after that. How did you react?
As I said earlier, selection is not in my hands, so I do not spend my time thinking about it. I think only about the things I can control, and that is to constantly improve and keep scoring runs whenever I get an opportunity.
My focus is always on working hard and improving every day.
Your next assignment will be the India 'A' tour of the West Indies, where the team will play three unofficial Tests among other matches. How important will that opportunity be for you?
Definitely, this will be a very important tour for me. When you perform for India 'A' the next step is the Indian national team. That is why it is so important to perform at that level.
At the moment I am batting well and need to continue my good form. I know I have done well in the IPL but I will have to start afresh in the West Indies.
I believe that in cricket everyday is a new day and you got to start from the scratch no matter how well you have done the previous day. You have to adjust to the conditions, to the bowler and make a fresh start everyday.
You are someone who is spoken of as the being the future of Indian cricket, especially in Test matches. How encouraging is it when former cricketers rate you so highly?
When so many former players and other big players talk about you so highly then, definitely, it is a big motivation.
I hope I can live up to expectations; that inspires me everyday. I look to work harder and become a better cricketer with each passing day.
It is actually a challenge for me. I will try to prove them right.
How high do you rate Test cricket? Many believe it is the ultimate challenge for a cricketer?
Obviously, playing Test matches is every cricketer's dream. But I believe that if you are a good player, you can do well in all three formats.
So I am hoping to do well in every format that I get a chance to play in. Getting a Test cap is everyone's dream, but I want to do well in ODIs and T20s also because, as you have seen, big players like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid do well in every format.