Speaking on Indian batting’s GenNext, this is what Sachin Tendulkar told me about Ajinkya Rahane soon after he had played his last Test match: “Ajinkya has been the perfect devotee and has served cricket with all the dedication and commitment over the last few years. I said to him at the end of my last Test match (Sachin had called Rahane to a room adjoining the dressing room at the Wankhede) that he might feel hard done by what had happened in his career so far but he should continue to be the way he is. He had played the last Test match of the series against Australia in March, 2013 and thereafter Rohit had come up and grabbed his spot on the back of a fantastic one day double hundred against Australia. With two consecutive hundreds, Rohit had made the spot his own at least for a while and Ajinkya was yet again left to wait for his turn. But I was sure Ajinkya would get his chance and said to him that he should do his best to grab it with both hands. For the moment he may feel it is a cruel game but I am certain the game will take care of him in the future if he continued to serve it the way he has always done.”
Prophetic words, because Rahane, now Indian batting’s mainstay alongside Virat Kohli, is now captaining the team in Zimbabwe.
One of the most humble and nice guys one can come across, he is the perfect Mumbai batsman in many ways. Gritty and dogged, determined and solid, Rahane is clearly one who will be there for long. And more than anyone else he deserves to be there having done the hard yards while growing up.
In fact, his parents did all they could to make Ajju, as he is fondly known, a cricketer of repute. And now years of hard work and struggle has paid off for the Rahanes. "I had taken Ajju to this camp in Mumbai when he was seven and it had a matting wicket. We couldn't afford any better. For me it was an attempt to ensure he did not waste his time after school. The man who ran the camp showed him a black and white picture and said do you know who this is? It was a picture of Sachin Tendulkar. When Ajju said he did, he was asked if he wanted to play alongside him. To my extreme embarrassment Ajju said yes he would surely play with Sachin one day. I just can't believe he actually did so!" said Madhukar Rahane while speaking about the years of struggle.
Unable to afford an auto ride, mother Sujata used to carry younger brother Shashank on her lap and walk two kilometres with Ajinkya everyday with his kit bag in tow to ensure he did not miss coaching. Her job was simple. Take Ajinkya to the coaching and then be back in time to pick him up. She was the one who carried the kit bag because it was too heavy for the 8-year-old Ajinkya. "It was difficult for me to tell Ajju that we couldn't take an auto every day. Seeing me struggle to carry the load he would often say let us take an auto. Those were difficult days," said Sujata.
This is why young Ajinkya stays grounded. He knows success comes at a cost and does not come easily. One hopes that for Indian cricket more than anything else he remembers these lessons and continues to serve the game in the next-half-a-decade and more. Here’s wishing the Indian captain all the very best.