Ton ends Rahane's sleepless nights
In the second ODI of the series, the first essentially, Ajinkya Rahane played a forward-defensive, was beaten, and had dragged his back foot out. He was stumped. He couldn't sleep that night. If you are an Indian batsman, you don't get stumped playing a forward-defensive to gentle offspin. You just don't.
However, in Rahane's case, a bigger concern led to the sleepless night. This was the 13th time out of 16 in a 31-innings career that he had failed to reach 60 after 40. There was no hundred to his name. He had a middling average and a strike-rate. If you looked at his career stats, you wouldn't be able to tell he had been batting really well.
Two ODIs later, though, at Edgbaston, Rahane finally got that hundred to seal a comfortable series win for India. Before the start of the final game, Rahane was a much more relaxed man. A man with no monkey on his back.
"It was really special [getting that hundred]," Rahane said. "After two 40s in the first two ODIs, and the way I got out, I was really hurt. I couldn't sleep after the first game because the way I got out stumped. It was a really silly mistake of mine. I was really determined in the third ODI. Once I crossed the next 10 runs after 40, my natural game took over."
Like many observers, Rahane, too, questioned his focus during the 40s. Even at Trent Bridge, he opened the face of the bat to be caught at the wicket. Again in the 40s. "When you get out softly, somewhere you feel your focus is dropping a bit," Rahane said. "Team-mates also help you, and nudge you into the right direction. All team-mates and the captain supported me. They told me to focus harder during the 40s, to try to play straight, and to concentrate harder."
Rahane reserved special gratitude for Ravi Shastri, the new team director in the wake of the Test debacle. "I was batting well in the first two ODIs, but got out on 45 and 41," Rahane said. "That hurt me a lot because if you are batting so well in good conditions against this attack, if you get a big score it is good for my confidence and team morale. It hurt the team chances too that I was not converting my starts.
"Ravi Shastri was very helpful during this phase. He asked me to continue playing the way I was playing, just asked for a little extra focus between 40 and 50. 'Once you cross 50, your instinct will take over.' My focus in the third ODI was to focus that bit harder once I crossed 40, at least for those 10 next runs. After that I backed my instinct."
Rahane said that during those 40s he began to think too much, which is not ideal. "I knew deep inside that a big innings was around the corner," Rahane said. "When you are batting well, you don't think too much. All I had to think about was how do I focus that bit extra between 40 and 50, and how I prepare for that phase before the match. It was just a mind game."
Rahane approached the 40s at Edgbaston as many do their 90s: to just get it out of the way as soon as possible. "When I was on 44, my mindest was that if I see a ball I can hit I will try to complete the half-century with a six," Rahane said. "So when I was on 47, with Moeen Ali bowling and about six fielders in the circle, I thought if the ball is in my zone, I will hit a six. So the square leg was up, and I got a chance to play that sweep that went for six. My mindset was to remain positive. I didn't think of small steps that would take me to the half-century, I wanted to remain positive."
That Rahane's first ODI century has come as an opener creates interesting possibilities. For starters, Shikhar Dhawan said after Edgbaston that Rahane's intent helped him settled down into his first big innings of the tour. Rahane spoke about that 183-run partnership, which was more than India's opening stands in the last three Tests put together.
"When we went out to bat, the ball seamed around for the first five-six overs," Rahane said. "I told him I will remain positive, and if I see a ball I can hit I will go after it. In that over itself [the fifth of India's innings] I hit four boundaries, and the momentum switched towards us. Then Shikhar asked me to continue playing that way. I backed my game, and that allowed Shikhar some time to settle in. Once he got in, it was a joy to watch him bat from the non-striker's end."
Rahane was not India's first-choice opener for this ODI series. It was Rohit Sharma, who got injured during the Cardiff match. MS Dhoni asked Rahane if he was up to opening the innings, and Rahane accepted the opportunity and the challenge gladly. "When you captain shows that confidence in you, you also must be prepared mentally to take that challenge on."
However, that now leaves the changing room with an interesting debate when Rohit does come back from his injury. Rahane wouldn't get into a discussion into it at the moment. "I haven't thought of it yet," he said. "We always want to play for each other. We want to enjoy each other's performance. A good team is one that plays for each other."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo