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A ball boy at the same ground till a few years ago, the one-day international against England will complete Rahane’s journey from dreaming of meeting the country’s cricketing stars to being amongst them.The lone Mumbai player in the current national team, Rahane recalls how he would keep hoping for a glimpse of the big stars. Unlike now, he had no mobile phone to get himself clicked with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, when they came to Wankhede.
“I have been a ball boy twice — during an India-Australia match and a game against South Africa. Both times I was near the dressing room and I was always excited to see Indian players, wondering how different things would be inside the dressing room from outside. I always wanted to be in there one day, and now I will do that,” Rahane recalls.
He knew even then that achieving what he dreamt of required immense hard work, and was willing to go the extra mile.
“I always wondered about how everyone in the country was desperate to get one look at the national team players. All the senior, great players used to be there in the dressing room and it was great when I was able to see them personally the first time (as a ball boy). That was the moment I decided I had to be in there and I was ready to do any amount of hard work for that,” Rahane says.
Rahane was a ball boy last in 2005, after which he plunged headlong into working on his cricket. Consistent performances in the junior circuit saw him break into the Mumbai Ranji Trophy squad, where he continued being a run-machine.
His on-field exploits and 4,000 first-class runs finally earned him national call-up during the England tour. A successful trip — where his batting was one of the few high points in a dismal Indian performance — and his first Man of the Match award in the last ODI in Mohali means Rahane will enter the field the Wankhende with confidence. That the last time he played at Wankhede, he scored a century against Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy will add to his morale.
Carrying the expectations of an entire city that takes its cricket seriously Rahane, however, won’t have his family in the stands. He hasn’t had them, in fact, ever watching his games. His father Madhukar says watching Ajinkya play makes them more nervous. “I’m sure we can’t handle the pressure. Even Ajinkya will be under pressure if we are there,” said Madhukar, who with the rest of the family will be in Mahabaleshwar over the weekend.
For someone who has a black belt in karate and started cricket simply as a means of staying fit, Rahane has come quite a long way from his days throwing the ball in from the other side of the boundary. On Sunday, though, it will be Rahane posing with the ball boys. This is one fairytale that has come true for the city’s opening batsman.