It took an injury to Virender Sehwag for Ajinkya Rahane to finally get a call-up to the national squad after four seasons of sweating it out in Indian domestic cricket. Fresh off a successful tour of Australia with the India Emerging Players squad, he's now headed to England for the five-match ODI series. "It is a dream come true for me," Rahane told ESPNcricinfo. "I have been waiting for this moment for very long, and finally it has arrived."
If having his efforts being repeatedly ignored has hurt, Rahane does not show it. "I have focussed only on my game and my performance all along," he said. "I just know that I have to keep making runs consistently. The more the competition from other players, it only serves to motivate you, and it is a good thing."
With a first-class average of 67.72 and a List A average of 38.61, Rahane has seen several players leapfrog him into the national side on the basis of meteoric IPL performances. He has shrugged his shoulders and gone back to making runs for Mumbai, firmly believing that the sheer weight of runs would one day tilt the scales in his favour.
That day has arrived, but Rahane has learnt the hard way to remain grounded. "I know that it is only the beginning. I will have to work doubly hard from now and keep focussed."
'Focus' is a word that Rahane admits to using a lot. It is also a useful ability that he has developed over the years. Many Indians have scored a hundred on first-class debut. Not many have done so in Pakistan, where Rahane hit 143 for Mumbai against Karachi Urban in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy in September 2007. In his second Ranji Trophy season, he racked up 1089 runs with four hundreds as Mumbai won yet another title but the selectors weren't interested.
He made 809 runs in the next Ranji season but the selectors preferred Cheteshwar Pujara - Rahane's closest competitor in scorching the domestic run-charts - for the home Test series against Australia in 2010. Rahane responded with an unbeaten hundred in the tour match against the visitors and, a week later, scored 191 against the Rest of India in the Irani Cup. He also struck 84 and 95 in the one-day Challenger Trophy immediately after. A couple of days after that, the selectors picked Shikhar Dhawan, Saurabh Tiwary and M Vijay for the ODIs against Australia.
Even now, he may or may not make his ODI debut for India in England, but will cherish being part of a side that includes both his idols - Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid - together for the first time. Previously, Tendulkar has been a team-mate at Mumbai and Mumbai Indians, while Dravid shared the Rajasthan Royals dressing room with him during the last IPL season. Those experiences have helped in building up his patience. "Sachin and Rahul have always been my idols. There has been so much to learn from them."