New Delhi: The first batsman to notch up a hundred in what has been a particularly low-scoring Test series against South Africa, India's Ajinkya Rahane said the key to his success was keeping a blank mind and playing one ball at a time.
"When I was batting, I just wanted to stay blank and play one ball at a time. I wanted to build partnerships with the other batsmen. It feels really special that I batted with (Ravichandran) Ashwin while getting my hundred," Rahane, who scored a superb 127, told mediapersons at the end of the day.
"In the first two Test matches, I was looking to play shots initially and that's why I got out. I knew I was batting well. I spoke to Sanjay Bangar and Ravi bhai (Ravi Shastri) and they said 'You have just got to take your time initially, play one ball at a time. If you are 25 to 30, your instincts will take over'."
The stylish batsman said there was nothing wrong with his technique but he was playing too many shots too early.
"There was nothing wrong technically or mentally. I was just playing shots close to my body. I was slightly hurrying as I was trying to play my shots straightaway. Here I just wanted to take my own time and play as close to my body as possible, wait for loose balls. Patience was key over here. Determination and patience helped me in this innings," Rahane revealed his secret of success.
For Rahane, the hundred is indeed a special one as he made his Test debut at this venue.
"Yes, it is a very special hundred for me because I made my debut in Delhi against Australia. So I had a few things in my mind. Those memories against Australia (were revisited). I was pretty determined to bat well as I knew that I was batting really well in the series.
"But important was to spend time in the middle and later on look for big innings. So really happy for the hundred but especially for the partnerships, which I got with Ashwin, Virat and Jadeja. That took us to 330 plus," said the soft-spoken Rahane.
Rahane also toed the team line that they did not discuss about the pitch conditions.
"We were not thinking about that. In the dressing room, we are not talking about the wickets. It is important for us to win the match and win the series. There is nothing wrong with the wicket. You should give credit to our bowlers especially Umesh and Ishant.
"That three-over spells each spells from both of them was pretty crucial. Because in the dressing room, we never think about how good or bad the wicket is. It's team effort that we played really well," said Rahane.
Rahane had mixed feelings about the Kotla track which he described as neither too easy nor too difficult for shot making.
"Shot making was not easy but once you are set, you decide that you are not going to get out. It was difficult for bowlers to get batsman out. We all saw that when our bowlers bowled (showed) good discipline and patience.
"For bowlers, it was important to show patience and bowl in right areas but as batsman, I feel spending time in the middle, taking my time, playing my normal cricket rather than play attacking shots was important. It was not easy for shot making but not difficult as well," he observed.
Rahane lauded Ashwin's effort and the contribution from the lower order which included the 38-run stand between Ashwin and Umesh Yadav for the 9th wicket.
"That's a good sign when you know that your lower-order is batting really well. I think that partnership (Umesh-Ashwin) was crucial. If guys at 8, 9, 10, 11 can contribute, then opposition's morale goes down. Batting with Ashwin was really important. Communication was just to play normal cricket.
"Ashwin can bat as he has got 2 Test hundreds. We thought this morning that their bowlers Morne and Abbott will come hard at us. So we took our time initially. Ashwin was timing really well. Even I took my time and then decided to play my shots as well."
There was a sense of deja vu for Rahane as he said that it felt like being in the same situation when he scored his second Test hundred at Lord's last year.
"When we were 138/6 (actually 139/6), I was recollecting those memories as even at Lord's, we were 142/7 (actually 145/7). It was like same situation. I was just thinking to just communicate with other batsmen and back my instincts.
"When Ashwin came in, I just told him that if the ball is there to be hit, I will go after and back my instincts. I think the response from him was crucial. He was really positive from his end. He said you can bat whatever you like and however you like. So those memories from Lord's innings came handy here," Rahane fondly recollected.
He also said that the whole team felt that he was "one innings away from coming back amongst runs".
Once again Rahane was asked about limited overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's comments about his abilities in shorter format but he handled it effectively.
Asked if Dhoni's comments had any effect on him, Rahane replied: "Not at all. My job is to play cricket and improve day by day. I never think about what others are saying but I take their opinion and look to improve and move forward."
Rahane said that the strategy was to bat long and deep once they got past 260 as South Africans gave it all in the first hour.
"I was batting on 89 (overnight) and I knew that they will keep fielders at boundary and attack Ashwin. Dropping catches happens in cricket and they were giving their 100 percent in the first one hour. They bowled their hearts out. Ashwin was pretty good at the other end. I think 300 plus will be a good total on this track. Once we crossed 260, we wanted to bat longer and bat deep. Just take the game away from them."
Rahane said for him, every century that helps a team win a Test match is a "special effort".
"If the century helps the team, then it is a special effort irrespective of the conditions - India or abroad. This is my first hundred in India and obviously it is special."
Asked why India are not enforcing follow-on, he said that it was a decision taken by the captain and they are happy with it.
"It was team management's decision of not enforcing the follow-on. Whatever captain decides, all the 15 members back his decisions. It's a team decision and a good one (at that)."
He has now made a name for himself as a specialist slip catcher and attributes it to the hours of practice which includes hundred catches a day.
"From the start, wherever the captain has told me to field, whether it is silly point, forward short leg, slip or gully, I have always given him a positive response. My mindset is to obey the captain. In Sri Lanka, Virat told me that I will field in the slips. I gave him a positive response," Rahane said.
"Then I told Sridhar (fielding coach) that I want 50 to 100 catches per day so that I can properly fulfill the responsibilities entrusted by team management. I took a lot of catches, prepared well, showed the captain that he can show confidence in me," Rahane said.
"In slip fielding, preparation is very important. You can't concentrate for six hours. One needs to switch on and switch off. Knowing when to concentrate is also important," he concluded.