Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Rahul Dravid has said that beneath his understated demeanour, Ajinkya Rahane has developed "real belief" in his ability and is forcing his way to be counted among the leading batsmen in the current India middle order.
On four tours outside Asia, Rahane has scored Test centuries in Australia, England and New Zealand, and fallen four runs short of the mark in Durban. His average of 48.47 is the fourth-highest for Indian batsmen who have made at least 1000 runs outside their home continent, after Dravid, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.
"He has now developed a real belief in his game and ability," Dravid told the Cricket Monthly, which features a profile on the making of Rahane in its January issue.
"He does not feel the need to show it off or to talk about it, which is in some ways a very good thing. But I can see there is a confidence. Like every batsman, he will have certain doubts and fears, but I have seen that over the last few years, he knows he has the game and the ability to be able to answer a lot of the questions that are going to be posed to him."
Compared to the demonstrative and aggressive mannerisms of batsmen such as Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, Rahane is quite restrained on the field, and Dravid, who has played a mentor of sorts to Rahane at Rajasthan Royals, said that his quiet appearance only masked his "steel".
"He is a slightly less flamboyant kid than the others but I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. Anyone who plays with him knows that he is a tough kid. He has got a steel about him.
"That is what matters. The guys who play with you, selectors, captains, you can sense he has got steel. I don't think the fact that he is a bit less flamboyant or hits fewer sixes has held him back.
"He has been competing in an environment where a lot of the other guys are doing well. He has now come into his own. He is at that level where he is pushing to be recognised as one of the best in that middle order."
Amol Muzumdar, the former Mumbai captain under whom Rahane made his List A debut, said that as long as a batsman was scoring runs, it made no difference whether he kept a low profile or not. "Lots of myths float around in Indian cricketing circles," Muzumdar said. "And one of them is this. That you have to be in somebody's face to be recognised. But that is not true. Ultimately what is important is to score runs, no matter how you do it. Whether you are low or high profile or in somebody's face, that is your lookout. That is how I think Ajinkya also looks at it."
Rahane could not score too many when he was finally given a Test debut against Australia in Delhi in 2013 after 16 straight games on the India bench. Scores of 7 and 1 ended in nervy dismissals to spinners and he was back on the sidelines. Pravin Amre, the Mumbai coach who has worked extensively on Rahane's game, said that the batsman was "shattered" after the game.
"That Australia Test was a cross on his name," Amre said. "He was shattered. Legends criticised him on air. I knew that was a turning point in his life. If he was gone, he was gone. That stamp would have been there throughout his life. He could have scored a 1000 [Ranji Trophy] runs a season, twice, but that stamp would have been there - that he did not capitalise when he had the opportunity. That is how cruel this game is."
Amre suggested a change in Rahane's backlift, even as the batsman returned to the bench for Sachin Tendulkar's farewell Test series against West Indies. It meant that he had sat out 18 of 19 Tests, but Sulakshan Kulkarni, the former Mumbai coach, said that Rahane never showed his disappointment.
"A person can get a bit relaxed about fielding when he is sitting out," Kulkarni said. "But he would ask me for specific fielding sessions [in the Mumbai nets]. I would play the cut, and he would try and stop it between point and gully. It shows how sincere the man is. He will not sit and sulk."