Rahane encouraged by Dhoni to 'be Ajinkya Rahane and play like Ajinkya Rahane'

"I just want to back myself, I've never tried to be someone else," the Super Kings batter said after his 27-ball 61 vs Mumbai

Ajinkya Rahane only found out that he was about to make his Chennai Super Kings debut "just before the toss" during their seven-wicket win over Mumbai Indians on Saturday night. But he took advantage of the opportunity presented by Ben Stokes' injury and Moeen Ali's illness, hitting 61 off 27 balls to set up a cruise to victory with 11 balls to spare.
Coming in at No. 3 after Devon Conway fell to Jason Behrendorff in the first over of Super Kings' run chase, Rahane was the aggressor in his partnership with Ruturaj Gaikwad and struck 23 runs off a single over from Arshad Khan, the fourth of the innings, to get his new franchise ahead of the required rate.
"When we were bowling, we got the idea of how the wicket was playing and how the ball was behaving," Rahane said. "When you're chasing 150 or 160, it's important to bat with intent in the first six overs. If you get a good start, it becomes really easy. When I went in, it was all about playing my normal game, backing my strengths."
Rahane had been a peripheral figure across the last two IPL seasons, playing twice for Delhi Capitals in 2021 and seven times for Kolkata Knight Riders last year, and had not made a half-century in the tournament since November 2020. Super Kings signed him for INR 50 lakh at December's auction, and Rahane said that he had been encouraged by captain MS Dhoni to be himself.
"Every player is different," Rahane said. "I don't want to be someone else; I just want to be Ajinkya Rahane. The way I know how I play, my strengths, my timing. I just want to back myself. I've never tried to be someone else. It's all about trying to remind myself that if I can just be Ajinkya Rahane and play like Ajinkya Rahane, I think I'll be fine.
"The preparation we had as a team before IPL started… we came to Chennai on March 2. Mahi bhai [Dhoni] was there and the instructions from him were pretty simple: back your game, play to your strengths rather than trying to do something else. It's all about knowing your game and, when you get an opportunity, just back that game.
"Mahi bhai's instruction was completely clear, just play with intent, back yourself, don't change anything else. If your intent is good, I have the shots that I can play at any ground so it was all about keeping it simple for me. I'm happy to bat anywhere. It's all about your mindset and what you want to do for your team."
Speaking on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time:Out, Tom Moody suggested that Rahane's innings owed in part to the fact he had prepared for the IPL with a strong Ranji Trophy season, hitting two hundreds for Mumbai. "It's a great story," Moody said. "I think everyone enjoys when Jinks scores runs because he's just one of those likeable characters.
"He's always got a smile on his face and he's been a great servant to Indian cricket. In recent years, he's had his ups and downs in IPL for whatever reasons. The thing that first came to mind was that I believe he's had a very good first-class season leading into this, so he's clearly got some good form behind him.
"He was gifted a few balls early on which just lit the fire and he then just took it on from there. He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. He was just playing proper cricketing shots, cuts and drives and flicks off his pads. But it was vintage Rahane on show tonight."
Rahane has not represented India since the Test tour to South Africa in 2021-22, but his innings on Saturday night prompted suggestions that he could be in contention to play in the World Test Championship final in June, in the absence of the injured Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant.
"Anything can happen… as I always say, I will never give up," Rahane said. "For me, it's all about playing with enjoyment, and playing with passion. Whatever format I play, it's all about giving my best every time rather than thinking 'what if?' or thinking about the future which is not in my hands, not in my control.
"For me, it's all about, as a player, giving my best every time and trying to be as positive as possible and, whenever I get an opportunity, I should be ready for that."