Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane has said ahead of the WTC final that he's not fazed by the criticism around his batting returns. Rahane is India's highest scorer in this WTC cycle, with 1095 runs at 43.80, and has had the unwavering support of the team management.
As recently as February this year, captain Virat Kohli said that Rahane, alongside Cheteshwar Pujara, was India's "most important batter" in response to questions about his form and place in the team. In his last 18 innings, Rahane has made one hundred and one fifty, but he said that he's not living in the past ahead of the WTC final.
"It feels special [to be the leading run-scorer]. I'm happy to take criticism. I feel because of the criticism, I'm here," Rahane said. "I always want to give my best, whether people criticise me or not. For me what is important is to give my best for my team, my country and contribute, each and every time. Be it as a batter or as a fielder. I don't really think about criticism. If people criticise me, that's their thing and that's their job. I cannot control these things. I always focus on the controllables, putting my best foot forward and following my process. And the result follows."
Rahane has been one of India's leading overseas batters during his decade-long career, but England remains the country where he's had least success; in ten Tests in England, Rahane averages 29.26 with four fifties and a hundred. However, three of those fifties have come during two Tests in Southampton, where the final will be held.
"I like to be in the present," Rahane said. "I've been at this venue many times now, played for Hampshire also. Yes I know the conditions but what is important is to be in the moment, be in the present and adjust to the conditions on that particular day. Being the highest run-scorer doesn't matter now. Whatever happened, that was past."
"I'll be playing my natural game. Doesn't bother me much, what my record is in England as long as I'm contributing to my team. For me, winning is more important - whether I score 100 or score less ... Even if I score 30-40 runs, if those 30-40 runs are valuable, I'm happy. It's all about the team, it's all about contribution, so I don't want to put too much pressure on myself."
India themselves haven't had the best of times on their last two visits to Southampton. While Rahane was able to find his best at a challenging venue, they lost by 266 runs in 2014 and by 60 runs on their last visit, in 2018. A change of opposition and context - it will be a one-off match, after all - will make for a fresh approach though, Rahane said.
"Opposition is different [so] our planning and strategy will be completely different. Playing against England here in Southampton, the plan was different. We just want to take this as just another game, we don't want to put ourselves under pressure. Especially because we're playing a Test after a long time now. I think what is important in this Test is playing with freedom, playing as a team and backing each other. That will really help us rather than thinking about the outcome after this Test match."