Ajinkya Rahane is often compared to the great Rahul Dravid. Not only in his style of play, but his demeanour as well. He is in real measure the backbone if the Indian batting order. Not selected for the limited-overs series in England, Rahane is a near-certainty for the five-Test series against the hosts starting next month.   

The Indian Test batting mainstay took some time out to speak to My Nation, in a candid chat on the English challenge, yo yo test and more. Excerpts:

My Nation: For India, the England tour is the second-biggest after South Africa. How do you see this challenge? 

Ajinkya Rahane: It will be quite challenging for us. especially on English soil where the ball comes with the pace and bounce. We know they are a strong opponent and play good cricket on their home soil. But we are not thinking too much about them. As our coach Ravi Shastri said earlier, we are taking this series like a home series. And not only this, each and every series. Over the past two years, we have beaten good teams like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka. So our mindset is clear — to just win matches. If you think of this series like a home series, you would not take pressure. We respect the English team. But most of the players in the (Indian) team toured in 2014, so they know the condition and nature of the wickets. You just need the right momentum in the first Test in Birmingham. They have quality bowlers like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. We just need to express ourselves and beat them. If you want to be the No 1 team for a long period of time, you have to win Test series in overseas conditions. This is a another home away from home series for us. Once you go with this mindset, things will be easy for the team.  

MN: According to you, who will be the favourites in the Test series — England or India? Who are the main threats for India?

AR: You can’t predict anything in cricket. Obviously England are playing on their home soil, so they have an advantage, but as I told you earlier, we are not looking at which player is strong and is a threat for us. Our battle is just to get the control over the surface. If we read that rightly, no one can beat us. 

MN: How have you prepared yourself for the series?

AR: After the IPL (Indian Premier League), I started my practice immediately with Pravin Amre. He understands my mindset very well. We train in the nets simulating match situations. How the opponent bowlers might bowl, what conditions we might face and how we should tackle them makes up the training we do. It’s called a visualisation training. I am a strong believer of visualising and it helps me a lot when I am actually going out to bat. It’s just a revision of your session which you had done in the nets. Your mind would fall in line and you can tackle the bowler easily. When I am sitting alone, I see the videos of my best knocks. It helps me a lot to charge up. I never think too much, but just go with a balanced mind, because when you think too much, you are bound to commit mistakes.  

MN: In 2014, you had a decent Test series in England with 299 runs. Are you confident of getting more than that this time around?

AR: Definitely. English conditions suit me. In these conditions you have to play the ball close to your body, which will give you more time to see and play the ball in the right direction. We will be playing five Test matches on this tour. And I have set a target for myself to score more runs in comparison to my last series in England.

MN: But any special training for England?

AR: Not exactly. The practice is the same, but yes, you have to prepare for the bounce and pace on English soil. So I am practising to tackle that part. In Mumbai, rains have started early, but I had done enough ground practice before the rain. I am doing net practice in Indore with wet rubber ball. It creates extra bounce and pace which would be useful in English conditions. 

Usually I bat at No 5 in Tests. It’s a responsibility like that of an opener because when you are coming in to bat in that position half of the team has gone back. You need to provide a stability in the batting order and with the tailenders, you have to put up decent total on the board.

MN: Does it hurt not being part of limited-overs squads. How do you plan to regain your spot?

AR: It’s part and parcel of the game. Each and every player faces this kind of a situation in his career. But you have to take this thing positively. I felt bad for a day when the ODI team for the England series was announced and I was not picked up. I scored runs in ODIs against South Africa, but I am not thinking too much on those lines. This kind of things make stronger and tougher to prepare for big games. My only motto is to get the chance to play for the 2019 World Cup in England. I am preparing myself for that.

MN: India have dominated Test cricket at home and is No 1. Do you think this time around the team can win the series in England?

AR: We want to rule in each and every format of the game. Win matches in every continent, every venue. Whether it’s Tests or ODIs or T20s, we have to play with the same killer instinct, which we have been showing since the past two years. If you look at the current Indian team, junior players like Kuldeep (Yadav) and (Yuzvendra) Chahal are performing extremely well. Our fitness benchmark is also high in comparison to the past two years. It’s a good sign for Indian cricket. All players know what is their role and are giving their best. The team management had made a plan and target. Our duty is to try to achieve those targets. It's important for us to play with the freedom. 

MN: Virat Kohli had a poor outing in 2014 in England. Can it change this time around?

AR: He’s a born fighter. Both of us have done enough practice in Mumbai before we went to England. Look at his record since his bad form in 2014 in England. He was sole the anchor for most of the Indian victories either at home or abroad. As I know, he would have prepared himself for the English conditions and you would see Kohli’s real power in this series. 

MN: The past three-four months has been difficult for you. How do you plan to come out of this phase? 

AR: It’s not new for me. I went through this phase while I was playing U-19 and Ranji Trophy cricket. You learn from those phases. It’s a just a rough patch and each and every big player has to phase this in his career. How you keep yourself calm in such conditions is more Important. I see success and failure equally. You can learn from both such situations. I keep myself charged during my bad patches. Like every human being, I am waiting for one opportunity. 

MN: But how do you takle such situations? Do you do anything special? 

AR: Nothing much. Just face the situation. It’s important how you deal with the situation. If you know how to control it, you can come out easily from that bad phase. Everyday is not the same. It happens with each and every sportsman. You learn a lot from your bad days. I know that 2018-19 is my time. I will do better once this rough patch is past. I spoke with many senior cricketers and they also told me to not think too much and never lose my hunger for runs. It is just a matter of one innings to get back to form. My feeling is that humility is important. I keep following my processes. At the end of the day, you know better what your strength is. If you think too much then your body will get tired. I’ll keep this stage at a high level in my career. Once you break this barrier then will you really enjoy the success. 

MN: How has been the team management's role in this difficult phase?

AR: They have helped me a lot. They backed me on every single moment. Our coach Ravi Shastri always speaks with me when I get out early. No one is doubting my abilities. Even the selectors have kept faith in me in this crucial period and retained me as vice-captain for the Test team. As a cricketer, you need support of your team and coaches in crunch situations. I am fortunate that I got special treatment from them.

MN: How you rate India's batting unit, comprising Virat (Kohli), (Cheteshwar) Pujara and yourself for this England tour?

AR: Each and every player has his own batting style. They all play according to the match situation. Pujara’s role is to stay long on the wicket. He understands the bowler and wicket first and then goes for his shots. In my case, it is also quite similar. If you look at Virat, he always tries to charge from the first ball itself to create pressure on the opponent. We know that if he middles the ball, opposition bowlers can get under pressure. So rather than coming under pressure ourselves, why not create a tough situation for the opponent? We discuss among us how to play, and what strategy we want to use. We know that if we all stick on the wicket for a long period of time, runs will come automatically, and we can put a decent total on the board. Once you have a huge total on the board, your bowlers' work will be easier.

MN: Does the bowling unit also have the same plans?

AR: Definitely. If you win the Test match, you have to take 20 wickets. If you put up 280-300 or 450 runs on the board and your bowlers can’t take wickets then there is a no use. We are fortunate that in the current team there is a tremendous coordination among the bowlers. They know how to take 20 wickets and we had done that in South Africa. They have variety and skills, especially the pace bowlers. They all know how to push and motivate each other to take wickets. (Mohammed) Shami and Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) offer the variety of swing and pace, while Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma create pressure with their extra pace. Now Jasprit Bumrah is part of the Test squad and he has an X factor which makes him different from the other bowlers. The communication between the batting and bowling units is important and we are fortunate that we have a fine-tuning among us.

MN: There is a new fielding benchmark for Team India with the yo-yo test. What is your view on that?

AR: Yes, like batting and bowling, fielding is also equally necessary to win a match. Skill-wise all the players have an ability. Every player has tried to pass the yo-yo test to raise his fielding standard one step further. All the players have worked hard to keep themselves fit. Once you are fit, your focus is completely changed. It’s now routine for the players. They have all got their fitness schedules and programmes from the trainer and they are working on it. If you are really looking to win the 2019 World Cup, you can’t neglect your fitness and energy levels. 

MN: As a player, do you believe this team is more disciplined than those from the past?

AR: You can say that. There is good discipline in the team. And the credit goes to our coach and entire support staff. Ravi (Shastri) bhai is charging all the players up every time, along with Virat and Mahi (MS Dhoni) bhai. We have set a different culture in the team and each and every player tries to maintain that level, which I believe is most important in the current scenario when you have a mission to be No 1 in each and every format of the game.