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A batsman in the classical mould, Ajinkya Rahane piled runs in the shortest format of the game in the fifth season of the IPL, 2012, after churning out brow raising performances on the domestic circuit. Opening for the Rajasthan Royals, the 24-year old played a key role in the Jaipur franchise’s fortunes in 2012 and is looking to repeat and better his performances in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013. With valuable experience behind him, RR’s leading run-getter in the previous edition will be shouldering more responsibility in second half of the ongoing season.
The youngster who received accolades for his stunning performances earlier had a slow start to the season. However, being in sublime touch, he was back amongst runs in the game against Mumbai Indians at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. While speaking to iplt20.com, the youngster discussed his role and responsibility in the team and talked about batting alongside Shane Watson.
Excerpts from the interview:
Is there added responsibility this season and of his role with changes if any in the team?
Yes the responsibility has increased and it is a good thing for me as well. I have to take responsibility and play, carry the team with me if possible. I enjoy that a lot. I also get to learn a lot from players like Shane Watson, Rahul Dravid, Brad Hodge. They are very experienced T20 players so it feels good.
Opening the batting with Shane Watson?
Opening with him makes my job easy because runs are coming from one end and we know he is a dangerous player. So my job is to play a ball (a shot) if it is in my zone, otherwise take a single and give him strike. And I try to give him as much strike as I can.
Have there been changes since last season?
I have not made too many changes to my game. Last year my focus was to keep my game simple and focus on cricketing shots, this year also it is the same. In the first three games I got out in the thirties. The batting has been good but the starts were not getting converted. Luckily against the Mumbai Indians I could convert it into a big score. I try to continue playing in the same flow that I am playing.
It is at the back of my mind that I don’t want to think too much about getting out in the 30s and 40s and not converting them into bigger knocks. And if I keep batting like the way I have been, I will be able to get runs automatically in the coming games. So my focus is to keep batting in the same flow as I have been doing so far.
On the knock against Mumbai Indians and the confidence he gained from it?
Performing against MI is a challenge because we all know they are a good team. And we played them with the approach of it being just another match and express ourselves on the ground. The plan was successful. My confidence levels are definitely up but there is still a long way to go in the tournament. We just want to play one game at a time.
RR as a unit, with three-four players firing in each game to wrest victories?
Yes, we do well as a unit and we have gelled well. In all four matches we have won, we have performed well as a team. The credit goes to Rahul Dravid for the way he has handled the team. He gives all players the same level of importance, the same confidence and that is a big thing for the players.
Having had a decent run last year, what was learnt, is being learnt and how it helps in the current season?
We lost some really close games last year and would not want to repeat those mistakes this time round. The more close games we win this year, the more beneficial it is for us.
There is confidence because everyone had performed well last year as well. And T20 is a game in which whoever plays well on a certain day will win. Rahul and Paddy Upton are handling the team well and give the team confidence.
Role clarity for players in RR, how it helps performance?
Rahul bhai has told everyone their role and what they are to do. Who will bat at what position and what their role will be in that situation/position, that certainly has helped the team.
On local players delivering in key roles for the Royals?
Yes, they have done well. In the IPL, the Indian players are performing really well. Whoever has got an opportunity in whichever match has performed well in that match. According to me, any team that has Indian players performing well will benefit.
Regarding his batting?
You have to make adjustments and small changes. But I have not done big changes, my focus is to play on my basics, play cricketing shots and I have been doing so, so far.
Being part of Rajasthan Royals and the recognition his IPL performances have got him?
Thanks to RR, the team management and owners because of whom I have the opportunity. It is because of them I played all the matches last year and definitely because of that I have got good recognition. My main aim is to enjoy my cricket, which is my passion. I don’t think too much ahead and take it one step at a time.
The forthcoming matches are very important. Every match is important and we approach each game like it is just another match, because of that there isn’t much pressure.
He is well known for his 12-ball 29 in a thrilling run chase against the Deccan Chargers for KXIP’s four-wicket victory in the IPL last year. This year he shot into the limelight with an outstanding catch at fine leg to dismiss Ross Taylor in the initial stages of the tournament, wherein he was the photographer’s delight.
With nerves of steel, hunger for runs and eagerness to succeed, Gurkeerat Singh is among the fresh crop of domestic players who is grabbing the attention of all the right eye-balls. He might not have the best of numbers in the IPL this year, but the 22-year-old middle order batsman is known to make useful contributions towards the end of the innings and give his side momentum.
Against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday, he chipped in with a quick-fire 28 off 15 balls towards the fag end of the innings, which helped Kings XI get to a respectable total of 149. In this chat with IPLT20.com, Gurkeerat talks about the influence of Adam Gilchrist to a young side, the fielding standards of the Kings XI Punjab and Yuvraj Singh’s bat that he believes helped him get the runs.
You got severe in the end of the innings against KKR, what was your approach to the game in the death overs?
I came to bat when there were just five overs left. I started the innings trying to get my eye in. But once I got my eye in, there was no looking back. In the last over as well, you have no option but to hit out. I had confidence in me to go for my shots and I was sure they would come off well. I knew this was the over to cash in, because in the previous over Sunil Narine gave away just two. We had no options but to attack L Balaji and I was glad we could get 18 off him in the end.
Talking about Narine, is he a major name discussed in team meetings?
Not really, but we do plan to play the bowlers according to their merit. I think the best option is to play safe against Narine. If you are not able to read him, it is better that you take singles against him instead of giving away your wicket. We just wanted to see Narine off and give him no wickets, because he gets more confident when he takes wickets.
How difficult is it to score right from the word go?
Whatever be the situation, you have to take some time to settle down. I always try to get my eye in first, try to work my innings by taking singles and doubles in the initial stages of my batting. Once my eye is set, I just go for the kill and try to score as freely as possible.
Did you think you could defend 150?
We had discussed before entering the field that we will not relax for one moment. May it be 60 for no loss or 20 for 3, we decided that we will not let go off the game at any time of the game. We had them under pressure by taking two quick wickets in the run chase. But Bisla, Kallis and Morgan played well to take KKR home.
Two crucial catches dropped? Do you think they were the turning points of the game? How crucial is fielding in T20s?
Holding on to catches is really crucial, but you cannot help it when catches are dropped. No one does it on purpose. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they do not. Had we held on two those two dropped chances off Manvinder Bisla and Eoin Morgan, the outcome could have been different. Having said that, there is a lot of effort that goes into fielding. Fielding is one of the main aspects of T20s, and we spend a lot of time in practice sessions on fielding. We have been a good fielding side, just that today there were a few lapses.
What are the positives you take from this game?
I think we did reasonably well by getting 149 on the board. The confidence will not drop with this loss. We have not been having a good opening partnership and it was a good sign to see that aspect of the game doing well in this game. We also scored well in the end of the innings.
Kings XI Punjab rely a lot on domestic talent, what are these players learning from the IPL experience?
It is always a big opportunity for domestic players to perform and we are thankful to the Kings XI Punjab management who trust our abilities. We will prove ourselves in the opportunities we get. Experienced players like Adam Gilchrist, David Hussey and Azhar Mahmood give us a lot of confidence. We all have done well in domestic cricket and we know how to tackle situations. The experienced players tell us how to tackle tough situations better and I believe we have been doing well in that aspect which has helped us not just in the IPL, but also while playing domestic cricket.
Who is one cricketer you admire the most?
I admire Yuvraj Singh. He is my favorite player. He speaks a lot to me about my game. In the last game too, he told me what areas to work on and how to go about my batting in different situations. He gave me a bat in the last game and Friday, I played with his bat. Thankfully I kept the reputation of hitting sixes with that (Smiles).