Peaceful warrior

Peaceful warrior
An asset on the field... be it batting or fielding, Rahane has proved his worth in the Indian team.

I remember this very shy young man from many years ago. It was the first year of the IPL, everyone was getting to know everyone else and between them they were trying to figure out what this T20 cricket was all about.

Exotic theories led to some very strange players being picked but amid the ignorance and the theorising, a group of young and very promising players came together for the Mumbai Indians.

Manish Pandey and Saurabh Tiwari had come from the India U-19 side but there were two others, two local boys who seemed to hang out together all the time. They hardly spoke, looked very diffident, I actually thought they were a bit wide-eyed, a bit lost.

They were very well-behaved though and when there was no one around, they seemed confident enough to share a joke. But they came with impressive credentials and so you kept an eye on them.

One of the two, Dhawal Kulkarni, flowered under the tutelage of Shaun Pollock but the other hardly got a game even though he had been extremely impressive in first class cricket. "He's not a T20 player", it was said about him and eventually Mumbai Indians lost him to Rajasthan Royals.

Sometimes a move just brings out the best in you. Maybe the atmosphere is different, maybe you feel more relaxed. Or, as in the case of Ajinkya Rahane, maybe you fulfil your dream of playing with Rahul Dravid.

By now, Rahane was skipping past 1,000 runs in a Ranji Trophy season, he was piling on hundreds but he was still shy and he was still not seen as a T20 cricketer. But the moment Rahane and Dravid walked out together, you could sense you were seeing a different cricketer.

Under Dravid, Rahane seemed taller every day, like a good pupil he sat by the teacher's feet, well figuratively, and watched how Dravid approached the game. If he had learnt only cricket from Dravid he would have emerged a rich man but he saw how Dravid carried himself, he learnt lessons in humility. He was to say later that it was a dream come true.

The Rahane that emerged from Dravid's tutelage was not just a very hardworking man but also a wonderful team player; willing to bat anywhere, learning to field everywhere. In those early years with the Mumbai Indians, Manish Pandey was the standout fielder. But watch Rahane now. The speed in the field, the agility, the ability to hit the stumps, these have all emerged from a wonderful work ethic and hours of practice.

Like Dravid too, Rahane had to wait. By the time he was picked for India he had played five to six seasons for Mumbai, had scored a bagful of runs, had become a dependable player. And, like Dravid, he had to learn to play limited overs cricket. I don't think it came naturally to either player but once they had learnt, they became excellent at it.

Nobody who saw Dravid bat in 1997-98 could have imagined he would finish with 10,000 one-day runs. I don't think too many people who saw the young Rahane bat would imagine he would bat like he did against South Africa, play an innings of such freedom, like a bird in flight.

Dale Steyn bowled three perfect yorkers to him, then dropped one a fraction shorter. It vanished over long off. It was exquisite but I'm not sure it was a shot he was born with.

But now he drives and he pulls equally well, the slash over point is in place and ever so often he will advance down the wicket to the seamer and hit over cover.

Against South Africa he showed he could start quickly and Shikhar Dhawan spoke of how much that helped him. I wonder sometimes if this ability to adapt comes from not having a lot in life to start with and so, needing to take every opportunity to survive, in Rahane's case, even to repay the investment the family made in him.

When you don't have the option of saying "no" in life, you learn to make the best of everything that comes your way. I think saying "yes" defines Rahane the way it did Dravid.

He now has Test hundreds crafted out in difficult conditions, is at home in limited-overs cricket and has evolved enough to play T20 cricket for India! By the rather limited showbiz definition, he may never become a star but in this Indian cricket team he is unquestionably one.

You become a star in sports when you earn the respect of those you walk out with and those that stand against you. You only have to see Dhoni talk about him to realise he is now a star in that team.

Some months ago, I went to his wedding reception. He was already a fairly successful Test cricketer, had played an unforgettable innings at Lord's to win a Test match.

I was curious to see what kind of wedding reception he would throw. That evening told me a lot about the family he comes from and I say so because that often determines the kind of person and, therefore, the cricketer you eventually become.

The evening was like so many other simple Maharashtrian marriages I have been to. I came away feeling this young man had grown up well.

Dhawan said the team calls Rahane the peaceful warrior. Both words are appropriate and, come to think of it, they sit quite well beside each other. Yes, peaceful warrior. May he long be that.

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