Ajinkya Rahane drives
© Getty Images


Ajinkya who?

No flamboyance, no big endorsements, no theatrics. Meet the quiet man of Indian cricket

Abhishek Purohit  |  

It was another of those countless cricket matches on the maidans of south Mumbai in the late 1990s. The opening bowler, nicknamed Anna, was a tall, athletic man, possibly in his mid-20s. In his day job, he was a waiter at a nearby Udipi eatery. But he had a thing for the new ball. Before his establishment opened for the day, he would charge in and bowl his heart out. If he felt he wasn't needed with the bat, he would leave to wait tables.

Facing him that morning was a tiny boy, not ten yet. His worn-out bat looked too big for his small hands; his helmet, clearly too large for his head, sat loosely on its perch.

The first delivery pitched, climbed and crashed into the helmet. The boy went down. His team-mates were shocked. They thought he had cracked his head open. Everyone rushed to the middle. The boy was wailing.

They made him drink some water, and told him to leave the field and return later, when the ball would be softer. Anna told the boy that he wouldn't be able to face him and it would be better if he left the field.

The boy didn't say a word. All he did was cry, for about 15 minutes, until the umpire sounded the ultimatum - either bat or leave. That's when the boy got up, washed his face, wiped it with his forearm, like kids do, and took fresh guard. Anna charged in again.

Four, four, four, four, four - a blaze of cover drives and flicks.

"It was paining. But from inside, I was feeling that I do not want to show that pain. I did not know much back then, but I just felt like taking my time. I told myself I will not go off. I did not want to show [the bowler] my back."

More than a decade and a half later, in Durban in 2013, the boy, now a man, attempted to duck another bouncer. This too crashed into his helmet. But he wasn't crying this time. And there was no one offering water. Four deliveries later, another short ball arrived. And Ajinkya Rahane, batting on 5 in the first innings of his third Test, pulled Dale Steyn for four.

Crush hour: crowds wait at a Mumbai rail station; not too long ago, Rahane was among them

Crush hour: crowds wait at a Mumbai rail station; not too long ago, Rahane was among them © Getty Images

"I got hit and told myself to not react," Rahane said in an interview to the Indian Express. "Because had I shown pain, it would have given Steyn and the opposition immense confidence, and they would have probably got me out soon after. The world is watching you and by not reacting you show that you are mentally strong. The message to him was: bowl whatever you want and I will not lose focus."

Rahane remained unbeaten on 51. In the second innings, he was last man out for 96 in a total of 223. Two months later, in February, he made his maiden Test century, in Wellington. In July he scored a hundred at Lord's, emulating his idol, Rahul Dravid, who had been the last Indian to do so. From spending 18 of 19 Tests on the bench, and failing on debut, Rahane had become the first choice for the No. 5 slot.

It was a position India had struggled to fill since Sourav Ganguly's retirement in 2008. And here was a little guy batting fluently in countries where raw Indian batsmen were expected to crumble. He was riding the bounce and punching boundaries off the back foot in South Africa. He was leaning into drives in New Zealand. He was leaving calmly in England, and often willing good deliveries through the covers. He made more runs on those three tours combined than any of his team-mates.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan called him "the best technical player" in the Indian team. Former Australia captain Greg Chappell was impressed enough to say that "across a range of conditions against a range of oppositions" Rahane was likely to be consistent.

"Anyone who plays with him knows he is a tough kid," says Dravid. "He has got a steel about him."

Rahane does not swear. He does not do aggression. He does not swagger. He does not do angry century celebrations

After Rahane hit Anna for those boundaries, his team-mates, roused at having witnessed the near-impossible, began to shout and swear at their opponents. This was their day, and it was rarely their day. A bunch of boys from Dombivli didn't shine on south Mumbai's maidans all that often.

Dombivli lies about 50km north of those maidans. An hour and a half in a slow local train, which halts at every station. An hour in a fast local, which halts at the major stations. Dombivli does not have a proper cricket ground. It has produced two Test cricketers - left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni, who struck with his first ball in Test cricket, and Rahane. Both studied at SV Joshi High School, which lies just east of the rail tracks. Both were coached by Rajan Dhotre, a man so obsessed with cricket he retired from his corporate job to spend more time coaching at the school, a service he offered free for many years.

In the mid-1980s, Dhotre started with a ground less than half the size of a small cricket outfield. Today he has seven practice pitches: six turf, one matting on cement. There were none in Kulkarni's time, two in Rahane's time. There were hardly any matches then. There are hardly any matches now.

"If we get a match, it is like Diwali for us," Dhotre says. "VN Sule Guruji [a school in central Mumbai known for its cricket] can play like five matches a week. That is 20 a month. We don't play that many in a year. How much can you practise alone? I tell my boys, 'Win one match, you will get another.'"

The obsessive: Rahane went to nets till two days before his wedding, and has in the past cut short a leisure trip to be able to practise

The obsessive: Rahane went to nets till two days before his wedding, and has in the past cut short a leisure trip to be able to practise © Getty Images

Commuting from Dombivli to south Mumbai was a separate hazard for Dhotre's boys. "Imagine taking all these kids in a train," Dhotre says. "A Dombivli or Kalyan train is fine. If by mistake they take a Karjat train [from south Mumbai], it will be so crowded they won't be able to get down here [in Dombivli]." Even if a train starts its run from Dombivli, those getting on there are not guaranteed seats; it is not uncommon for passengers from stations down the line to ride some way in the other direction to capture a seat for the ride into town. When he was a kid, Rahane was told to wait till the 7.30am train had come to a halt. As the train slowed, the older boys would jump in and grab seats. Rahane would board after the melee had settled, and sit in the lap of one of his older team-mates. They would sing and clap their way to south Mumbai.

As he got older and played for representative teams, he started travelling alone, kitbag in tow, leaving at dawn to report for early starts.

"Baba [father] came for the first day or two to guide me. He then told me to go alone. But even though I thought I was on my own, Baba was in the compartment behind mine. He was watching me. And he was there with me till the last stop. When he found I was all right, he stopped accompanying me."

Mumbai's trains ingest and eject millions of people every day. Inside one, it is humid, cramped and claustrophobic. You are mentally and physically drained by the time the train rolls into Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Imagine playing a whole day of cricket in the sun after such a journey. And then making the trip home. It requires steel all right.

"When I was young, playing a cross-batted shot meant I could break my bat," Rahane once said about his technique. "I couldn't afford that. Bats are expensive"

A relative of mine who occasionally follows cricket went to Lord's and The Oval last August to watch the Indians play. She looked around for Virat Kohli. She spotted him. Suresh Raina. Spotted. Rohit Sharma. Spotted. Ajinkya Rahane? She had no idea who he was.

"Typical Marathi middle-class boy," is how a friend describes him. Aapla normal mulga. Our normal boy.

Our boys find stable jobs. They dutifully take up family responsibilities. They respect elders. They do not speak out of turn. They live within their means. They carry their tiffin to work, wash it after lunch, leave the office at 6pm sharp and take the 6.17 train home. They do not go overboard in any sphere of life. They are shista - Marathi for disciplined. Rahane learned the value of discipline early. "When I was young, playing a cross-batted shot meant I could break my bat," he once said about his technique. "I couldn't afford that. Bats are expensive."

Rahane does not swear. He does not do aggression. He does not swagger. He does not do angry celebrations on the field. He is not flamboyant. His strokes are not languid. He talks haltingly at press conferences, and otherwise does not speak much at all. He does not stare at you from billboards. He wears an almost apologetic expression. His presence does not demand your attention. You can sense he is wary of the limelight.

And he competes with Kohli, Raina and Sharma. If it were a contest based on perception alone, Rahane would likely be marked absent. Shy. Reserved. Introverted. Meek. These words progressively attached themselves to him. And gradually, there was a perception that Rahane was not cut out for international cricket. Some felt he did not have the game for the highest level. Some felt he was just too nice to withstand the pressures an international player has to endure.

The anti-Kohli: in marked contrast to some of his team-mates, Rahane is quiet, undemonstrative and restrained

The anti-Kohli: in marked contrast to some of his team-mates, Rahane is quiet, undemonstrative and restrained © Getty Images

In October, members of the Indian team were at a ground in suburban Mumbai for a shoot for a team sponsor. Rahane walked out of one of the vanity vans with a towel draped over his blue India uniform. He was surrounded by a battery of production crew, PR agents, and his manager. His captain, MS Dhoni, was having fun getting filmed while batting in the nets against a tennis ball. Rahane had to pose for a few photographs; he did his best, but he was clearly not comfortable.

"Marathit karuya na?" ["We'll do it in Marathi, right?"] he gently checked before sitting down to talk.

When asked about being termed too "decent" for international level, he showed rare emotion, pointing a finger firmly to his chest as he spoke.

"I am not shy on and off the field. Instead of decent, it is far better to call me humble. That is my upbringing. I have come from a lower middle-class family and I value each and every thing. It was an effort at the start to even get a bat. Arvind Kadam sir [whose club he played for] helped me for my cricketing gear. Many times I used to soak the whites I had worn for morning practice and wear them again for evening practice.

"My appearance may be humble on a cricket field, but from inside, I am aggressive. I do not show it on my face. I try to keep my emotions inside. I feel that because of staying cool, I am able to retain my stability while batting. I can handle obstacles and pressure better because of that calmness."

Pravin Amre remembers the time he mentioned Rahane's name to one IPL franchise. "They bluntly told me, 'He is not a T20 player.'"

Amol Muzumdar, the former Mumbai captain, knows a thing or two about perception. He played first-class cricket for two decades - 171 matches, 11,167 runs, 30 hundreds. He did everything he possibly could at domestic level. He never played for India. At 40, he is as fit as he ever was.

Muzumdar once received a call from Sulakshan Kulkarni, the former Mumbai wicketkeeper who went on to coach the state's Under-19 side. Kulkarni said Rahane reminded him of a young Muzumdar.

"We were playing on a matting wicket against a side that was almost a Maharashtra Ranji team," says Kulkarni about an open-entry tournament in Nasik. "Mumbai players usually do not play on matting. We had to chase around 260 in 45 overs. I asked in the dressing room, 'What do you guys think?' [Fifteen-year-old] Ajinkya was the baby of the team. I never expected him to say anything, but he said, 'Sir, we'll chase it easily. I'll do it.' He made an unbeaten 130. People watching were dumbfounded."

You don't need the Indian Premier League to recognise a talent like Rahane, Muzumdar says. Two shots are enough. Those shots came as early as Rahane's one-day debut for Mumbai, against Delhi in 2007, six months before his first-class debut.

"He played [Ashish] Nehra over mid-off on the rise," says Muzumdar. "Those couple of shots stuck in my mind. He hit them very easily, like shelling peas. Boom. Gone over mid-off."

Muzumdar is a soft-spoken man, but we have touched upon topics that bring a scathing seriousness to his tone: someone being perceived as too soft; domestic cricket being talked of as, "oh, only domestic cricket".

"You can't fill a team with 11 Virat Kohlis," he says. "When he came on, you knew he was a player who could take on bowlers. He took to international cricket - as the cliché goes - like a fish to water. But with others, you have to [allow them to] settle down. And that is the better way to get into a team.

From inside, I am aggressive. I do not show it on my face

From inside, I am aggressive. I do not show it on my face" © Getty Images

"People say, 'Oh, domestic cricket khel raha hai.' Aakey khelo ek saal. [To people who say, 'Oh, he is playing only domestic cricket', let them try and play it for a year.]" Play in Guwahati. Play in Palam. Play in Anantapur. Play in Kerala. I have travelled the length and breadth of the country. That is hard to do. That is how he [Rahane] has gone about his business. Four-five years of hard, domestic cricket. And then taking steps into international cricket."

Rahane possibly had a harder initiation in the Ranji Trophy than in Test cricket. Former India batsman Pravin Amre, the Mumbai coach, remembers how Rahane struggled against Anil Kumble on his Ranji debut, against Karnataka at the Wankhede Stadium in November 2007. He was hesitant, a shaky starter, a leg-before candidate to the incoming delivery, and vulnerable to edging the outswinger.

Amre had marked Rahane as a long-term Mumbai prospect since his time as a junior national selector, but Rahane's first three Ranji matches yielded scores of 0, 22 not out, 4, 28, 8 and 20. To make matters worse, he was dropping numerous chances at gully. Muzumdar, who was captain, recalls Amre saying Rahane was a fantastic fielder. "And every time a catch was dropped, I went, 'Kaay challay kaay?' [What is going on?]"

There was something about Rahane that made Amre stand his ground, though the selectors and senior players said he was backing the young batsman too much. "I knew that sometimes some players take time to come out [of their shell]," Amre says. "Once they are out, they will be different."

Rahane repaid Amre's faith with 72 against Maharashtra, 90 against Rajasthan, and 149 against Saurashtra that season. The next season, he hit four hundreds. There were three more in each of the next two seasons.

Rahane became less uptight under Dravid and Rajasthan Royals head coach Paddy Upton. Reading, music and table tennis helped take his mind off cricket

Eyes absolutely wide open, ears wide open, mouth shut. You will learn." That was the way a junior cricketer was supposed to behave in the Mumbai dressing room, Muzumdar says. And when Rahane came in, Muzumdar knew that the calm, quiet boy who spoke only when needed was absorbing everything. "That is rare, and in today's world, extremely rare."

Rahane had been watching Muzumdar and Wasim Jaffer go about their routines in the Mumbai nets since his Under-14 days. "I used to see what kind of attitude and determination is needed to play Ranji cricket, and how they handled success and failure," he says. "And what kind of attitude suits my personality."

The suave Sahil Kukreja, a former Mumbai opener who now manages his family-owned real-estate business, made his first-class debut two seasons before Rahane. He cannot recall any other player, barring Cheteshwar Pujara, who improved so much, and so consistently, every season.

"His growth as a player every year was 10%," Kukreja says. "He added shots to his repertoire, his technique evolved, his body language on the field evolved."

The first time Kukreja saw Rahane, he looked "out of sorts" in a one-day match at the Cricket Club of India. "He did not come across as someone you would watch and say, 'Oh my god, this guy is going to take over the world.' He did not strike you the way Rohit Sharma would. The day you saw Rohit, you said, this guy is made for India. But when you saw Ajju, you did not say that. That is where his growth comes in. He evolved, in a way that will help in the long run."

Rahane has worked his way up in probably the most gruelling, unforgiving and competitive domestic set-up in the country. He has represented Mumbai from the Under-14 level, and India from the Under-15s. But even with 4624 first-class runs at an average of 69, with 17 hundreds, the India call-up was yet to arrive at the end of 2010. And he was not getting enough chances at Mumbai Indians either. Rahane wanted to play regularly in the IPL, but there were few takers. Amre remembers the time he mentioned Rahane's name to one franchise. "They bluntly told me, 'He is not a T20 player.'"

"I think what those 4000-odd runs in domestic cricket couldn't do, these 500-odd scored in the IPL have done with regard to people recognising me" © Getty Images

In September 2010, Rahane played for the Board President's XI against the Australians in Chandigarh. Shane Watson caught him for a second-ball duck in the first innings, and then watched him make an unbeaten 113 off 111 in the second innings against an attack that included Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus. Watson was so impressed he called his IPL franchise, Rajasthan Royals, to recommend Rahane.

Dravid, who joined Royals before the 2011 season, was also interested in the "curious" young batsman who had come up to him in Mumbai around 2007 to ask questions about batting. Dravid had watched Rahane "hammer" 165 and 98 in the 2008-09 Duleep Trophy final between West Zone and South Zone. He had also been on the field when Rahane made a half-century for Mumbai Indians against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Port Elizabeth in IPL 2009. When Rahane arrived at Royals in 2011, Dravid felt he was just a little hesitant.

"He was a little shy, maybe because he had been playing with some really talented strokeplayers," Dravid says. "He was not getting a lot of batting time with Mumbai Indians. He struck me as someone who needed that little bit of confidence. If he got that playing time, he definitely had the game to succeed and take it to another level. He almost felt he needed to do something different to play T20 because he needed to be this big hitter or this big, powerful player."

In his fourth innings for Royals, Rahane late-cut West Indies fast bowler Jerome Taylor for four to win a game against Pune Warriors in the last over. "You need tremendous confidence in your ability to try that," says former Mumbai batsman Zubin Bharucha, Royals' director of cricket.

Rahane played cricket partly because his father, a former government employee, did not want his children watching too much television

Soon, Royals entrusted Rahane with opening the innings. "We could see he was flowering as a person, he was starting to believe in himself," Dravid says. "When you are young, you need that reinforcement. It comes from the fact that you get a little more stability in the team, that you are not under pressure. Sometimes in a bigger franchise, you are constantly under pressure for your spot."

Going into IPL 2012, Rahane had a T20 average of 16.66 and a strike rate of 110. He made 560 runs that season at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 129.33, including an unbeaten hundred and a 98. And he did it lofting boundaries over extra cover and straight down the ground.

Although he had made his ODI and T20 international debuts after IPL 2011, it was the runs in IPL 2012 that brought him into the limelight. "The IPL is on television, so many eyeballs, so much media space, that if you do well, you get recognised," Dravid says. "The selectors are smart enough to realise that you need to score runs in Ranji Trophy as well, but people start watching you. A lot of people score runs in Ranji Trophy. If you add that up with runs in the IPL, it gives you that extra edge."

Rahane had echoed these thoughts after IPL 2012. "I think what those 4000-odd runs in domestic cricket couldn't do, these 500-odd scored in the IPL have done with regard to people recognising me. But I wouldn't have been able to score these runs if it wasn't for the number of hours I have batted in domestic cricket and the runs I have scored."

Rahane also relaxed more under Dravid and Royals head coach Paddy Upton. He used to be restless, and was told to divert himself. Reading, music, and table tennis helped take his mind off cricket.

"We are not here to take credit," says Dravid. "What happened at the Royals was that there was confidence and opportunity in an environment that he has enjoyed. That is the only thing we have been able to help create for him. Maybe a similar kind of environment to how he felt in Mumbai, when he played the Ranji Trophy."

Bharucha goes a step further and says he sees a future Royals captain in Rahane. "He has a long way to go strategically and tactically, but he is someone who people want to play for."

Scenes from a childhood: with his cricket-playing mates, in karate gear, the SV Joshi school ground (clockwise from top left)

Scenes from a childhood: with his cricket-playing mates, in karate gear, the SV Joshi school ground (clockwise from top left) © Ajinkya Rahane

It was around 2am one night in Kolkata when someone knocked on Bharucha's hotel-room door. It was Rahane, who wanted to discuss his batting.

"He is at you all the time. And in fact, he was batting well, he had just had a few low scores." Bharucha says that Rahane is "paranoid" about practice. At times, Bharucha had to tell him to stay in the hotel, since all the net bowlers were tired. Rahane was so engrossed in practising with Amre this year that the coach had to order a cake to be delivered to the nets on his birthday. In September, he practised till two days before his wedding. After returning from England this year, he cut short a leisure trip to resume practice. Former India and Mumbai fast bowler Ajit Agarkar jokes that Rahane should take a bowling machine wherever he goes. Dravid calls Rahane one of the most hard-working guys he has known. If Rahul Dravid has to tell you to "relax and chill", you probably need to.

But Amre believes Rahane is starting to lighten up. "When he got a hundred in England, he never batted [in the nets]. Instead of wasting his entire energy in the nets, he kept it for the next day's play. We had a couple of sessions on handling energy. Sometimes you are practising because you are not ready or you are doubting yourself. Once you are confident, you are waiting for the match rather than having long net sessions."

Other young Indian batsmen were way ahead of Rahane in the queue. Raina and Sharma played for India before Rahane had even made his first-class debut. Kohli made his India debut three years ahead of Rahane. Pujara, Kohli and Raina played Test cricket well before Rahane did, and barring a freak injury on the morning of what was to have been his Test debut, Sharma would have done the same.

Around 2am one night, someone knocked on the Rajasthan Royals director of cricket's hotel-room door. It was Rahane, who wanted to discuss his batting

Dravid and VVS Laxman were in the team till the Australia tour in 2012. When those spots fell vacant, Pujara took one, the other found different occupants. Raina played two Tests against New Zealand, and Yuvraj Singh played the first three Tests against England. Ravindra Jadeja debuted in the fourth Test, in Nagpur, while Rahane went to Rajkot to play for Mumbai against Saurashtra.

India played three spinners in all four Tests against Australia in 2013, and a vacancy opened up in the final Test in Delhi only because Virender Sehwag was dropped, Shikhar Dhawan was injured, and Gautam Gambhir was ill.

Then there was the matter of Rahane's batting position. Was he an opener? Was he a middle-order batsman? Rahane had opened for Mumbai in first-class cricket, especially in his early days, but had then settled on No. 3. He continued to open in domestic one-dayers. Kris Srikkanth, who headed the previous selection panel, is said to have told Rahane to be prepared to bat anywhere from No. 1 to No. 6. The current panel, headed by Sandeep Patil, narrowed that down to the middle order.

On March 22, 2013, Pujara moved up to open in Delhi, and Rahane made his Test debut, after 16 straight games on the bench.

It was close to the worst debut a batsman could have. The first ball, from Peter Siddle, swung in and prompted a long shout for leg-before, followed by a earful from the bowler. A nervous Rahane ducked into a bouncer next, and was hit on the helmet. He lasted 18 balls before gloving Nathan Lyon to backward short-leg.

The second innings was worse. India were chasing 155 and Rahane came in at 127 for 3. But the position was of no comfort. He was again a bundle of nerves. He staggered out to Glenn Maxwell off the fifth ball he faced, nowhere near the pitch, and holed out in desperation. It wasn't even a proper swipe.

You can wait for something for too long, and when it does come, you get so worked up you blow the chance. It can happen to anyone, and it had happened to Rahane.

Last man driving: Rahane punches one down the ground off Dale Steyn on day five in Durban, 2013

Last man driving: Rahane punches one down the ground off Dale Steyn on day five in Durban, 2013 © Getty Images

Amre knew this was much more than a lost opportunity, and that it would move Rahane behind Sharma in the pecking order for Sachin Tendulkar's farewell series against West Indies. More damagingly, Rahane's confidence took a hit.

"That Australia Test was a cross on his name," Amre says. "He was shattered. Legends criticised him on air. A reporter criticising is different. But when a legend criticises, it hurts. I knew that was a turning point in his life. If he was gone, he was gone. That stamp would have been there throughout his life. He could have scored a thousand [Ranji Trophy] runs a season, twice, but that stamp would have been there - that he did not capitalise when he had the opportunity. That is how cruel this game is. Ekda aapan khaddyat gelo tar khaddyatun var yayla jasti energy lagte [Once we fall into a ditch, it takes a lot more energy to come back up]."

The list of Indian batsmen dialling Amre to ask for help rebuilding their games was growing, but in Rahane's case it was Amre who offered help. He suggested a change in backlift. In the middle of a season. With tours to South Africa and New Zealand lined up.

"To change anything during the season, it takes courage, or rather, faith in the coach," Amre says. "He has got tremendous faith. To have played 14 or 15 years with one style, and to change that is not easy. Even to ask them to do this, you have to be really sure about it. Imagine if it does not work… it is so cruel. With three successive failures, even in the Ranji Trophy, you can be out of the state team."

Late last year Rahane said something that showed he had moved on from the Delhi debacle. "My time will come and I don't want sympathies," he said. "I'm still young and age is on my side. I have had a decent year so far. My Test debut might have come late but I know I'm in the race. I will fight it out. I will keep working hard."

You can wait for something for too long, and when it does come, you get so worked up you blow the chance. It can happen to anyone, and it happened to Rahane

"His parents were not competitive. That is why he played for India." You ask coach Dhotre to repeat what you thought he has said. Dhotre says many parents push their children so hard that the boys stop enjoying the game.

"One father told me about his son. He said, 'I bought him apples worth 40 rupees, and a litre of costly Gokul milk. And he still doesn't perform.' If he is mentioning all these prices, imagine how much he was expecting from his son.

"Ajinkya's father never had such expectations. 'He likes to play, let him play,' he used to say. To shout at him if he got a duck or to praise him if he made a hundred was not his style."

Rahane played cricket partly because his father, a former government employee, did not want his children watching too much television. That was also why he got his son to take karate classes. Rahane earned his black belt by the time he was around 12, and that early rigour reflects in his approach to fitness. He is one of the country's finest fielders.

His father believes that boys can lose direction between the ages of 20 and 25, but that despite experiencing fame and money, Rahane's values have kept him grounded.

An anecdote from a Mumbai-based journalist exemplifies this rootedness. On his travels, Rahane takes along a bag that contains a Marathi book of religious hymns. He never places this bag on the ground, even when waiting for the rest of his luggage by the conveyor belt at an airport.

"Very rarely do you see a cricketer who is very clear that money, fame, and style are secondary," says Atul Srivastava, Rahane's manager for more than seven years. Srivastava is yet to meet another cricketer who, even in his fourth year as an international, says he does not want to rush into endorsements.

"I feel that because of staying cool, I am able to retain my stability while batting" © Getty Images

"If you run after something, it runs further away from you," Rahane says. "I have always believed that if you let something be, it will come to you slowly."

Mumbai team-mate Jaffer says Rahane seems to belong to another era. "He reminds me of old-timers like Rahul and Laxman. In this generation, someone like Pujara or Ajinkya, they are open to learning, sincere, hard-working. They are not the party kind of people. There are so many distractions now in cricket, but they know their limitations."

A source in the Indian team talks about a moment after the XI was finalised for the Nagpur Test against England in December 2012. Rahane and M Vijay had missed out yet again, and were preparing to take the evening flight to join their Ranji teams. Vijay was visibly disappointed. "But Ajinkya was like, 'Theek hai yaar. Bhagwan bhala karega. Jab chance aayega, tab dikhayenge.' [It is all right. God will take care. When the chance comes, I will show what I have.]

Kulkarni says Rahane is not someone to sulk when dropped. "A person can get a bit relaxed about fielding when he is sitting out. But he would ask me for specific fielding sessions [in the Mumbai nets]. I would play the cut, and he would try and stop it between point and gully. It shows how sincere the man is."

After his forgettable Test debut in Delhi, Rahane was back on the bench for the home Tests against West Indies in November 2013. His Mumbai team-mate Sharma began with 177 on debut at Eden Gardens, converting a position of 83 for 5 into 453. Sharma then solidified his spot with a rollicking 111 not out in Tendulkar's final Test.

After the match, when Tendulkar was sitting in the dressing room at the end of a day drenched in high emotion, Rahane walked in to say one final goodbye. As he turned to leave, Tendulkar stopped him and told him that it was now up to Rahane. "I said to him 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, for I was sure Ajinkya would get another chance," Tendulkar writes in his autobiography Playing It My Way. If Rahane continued to serve cricket the way he had always done, wrote Tendulkar, the game would take care of him in the future.

Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo