India's Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said being dropped from the XI for the first two Tests on India's tour of South Africa at the start of the year left him "hurt" and "disappointed", but that once he was told he would be playing in the third Test in Johannesburg, he took it as an opportunity to "become a hero".
Rahane was benched for the Cape Town and Centurion Tests, both of which India lost. He made a crucial 48 in a low-scoring third Test in Johannesburg - on a pitch subsequently rated "poor" by the ICC - as India won to keep the series scoreline to 2-1.
"Definitely it hurts when you know you can do well," Rahane said, speaking at the Ekamra Sports Literary Festival in Bhubhaneshwar. "I didn't play two Tests in South Africa, I was disappointed. It was a team decision and you have to respect that. I got to know before the Johannesburg Test that I'm playing. So I just thought that was the best opportunity for me to become a hero. And I thought 48 on that pitch was as good as more than a hundred."
Rahane's next assignment will be a four-Test series in Australia, and he revealed that the Indian team would get a four-day practice match in Sydney before the first Test in Adelaide. "We are getting an opportunity to play a four-day match in Sydney as practice. Any team playing at home, you can't take lightly. Their bowling attack is very good, and experienced in their conditions. We also have a good bowling attack."
In absolute terms, Rahane has had a dip in returns in Test cricket over the past two years, scoring 999 runs from 20 matches at 32.22, dragging his overall average down from 47.33 at the end of 2016 to 41.40 currently. Several of those matches have come in conditions favourable to bowlers, and Rahane said that such patches are normal for every batsman.
"I don't think there is any problem. There are some phases where even if you think you are batting well, the 30s and 40s don't convert into fifties and hundreds," he said. "The biggest players go through patches like these. How mentally strong you stay through it is important. The mind starts playing tricks on you and negative thoughts come in. It's very easy to accept sympathy from people and say, 'Yes you're right, this is happening only to me'. But if you keep those people and thoughts far, you'll emerge from that phase faster."
When a question was posed to him about Cheteshwar Pujara and himself not being aggressive batsmen, Rahane at responded with a smile, saying "Who says I'm not an aggressive batsman?" He then contested the perception that batsmen like Pujara and him are not capable of upping the ante.
"I have never thought, and I don't think Pujara would have ever thought, that 'I wish I had that ability' [to bat as aggressively as someone else]," he said. "I think people wish that 'I wish I had Pujara's ability'. The kind of performances he has given, the ability he has, like he played 500 balls when he made that 200 against Australia in Ranchi - very few people have that ability.
"If you have patience, you can change your game at any time. If you have to play shots, or improvise, you can. If you are an attacking batsman and you have to play a Test-match like innings, it is very difficult. As a batsman, if your basics are strong, I don't think you face too much trouble playing in any format."
Asked about his thoughts on the pink ball, Rahane said its success depended on conditions. "The pink ball depends on surface and weather," he said. "Here [in India], there is so much dew in the evening, it's a disadvantage for the bowling team. Reverse swing also doesn't come into play [in such conditions]. Whereas if you play in the daytime, you know that you can be in the game."
Rahane's Test team-mate R Ashwin, meanwhile, was playing the first round of the Ranji Trophy against Madhya Pradesh in Dindigul, where he took 4 for 85 in the first innings. When asked if the upcoming Test series was India's best chance to win in Australia, he said: "If I say yes, it is going to blow things out of proportions. We had some good chances in England and South Africa. We didn't put it to bed. We could have very well done it. I thought we had a very good chance, we are a good cricket team. In Australia, until we bury those things and go out and show we are capable of it, until then it is important to stay balanced and play good cricket."