India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane is happy that people are talking about him.

Rahane is averaging only 22 this year with only two half-centuries 15 innings. Asked again if criticism motivates him, he said, “Everything motivates me. playing for India motivates me. I am not bothered about criticism.”

Ajinkya Rahane said he is unfazed by the constant criticism he has received in recent times, as it shows that he is an important player for the side. India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane has brushed aside recent speculation over his form, viewing the debate as a badge of honor. The vice-captain made a crucial 61 in the second innings of the Lord’s Test that India won, his first half-century in eight innings.

“I am happy people are talking about me. I am not bothered about criticism. People only criticize important people and, I am happy they are criticizing me,” said Rahane on Monday. Rahane’s stock could hardly have been higher when he led his country to a famous series-clinching win over Australia at the Gabba at the start of the year, but 2021 has turned into a testing time for the middle-order batsman.

Idle talk about his potential to take the reins from Virat Kohli on a more permanent basis has turned into scrutiny over his place in the XI, with two half-centuries from his last 15 innings. The second of those came last week at Lord’s, where he made a crucial 61 in the second innings to do his part in setting up a fifth-day victory and left him in a confident mood.

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Defends Pujara for his current form.

He also came out strongly in defense of Cheteshwar Pujara, another embattled batsman with whom he stitched a crucial 100-run stand for the fourth wicket.

“It was all about hanging in there. The communication was all about thinking about the small targets and then build on from there. Cheteshwar — we always talk about him playing slow — but that innings of him was important for us,” said the 33-year-old.

“He batted more than 200 balls even though he got just 45 runs. I thought those 200 balls were really important for us. We just wanted to build one good partnership. We knew 170-180 would have been a very good score on that wicket,” he added. “Cheteshwar and I have been playing for a long time, we know how to handle pressure, we know how to handle certain situations,” said Rahane.

“We back each other. He told me to back my game, I told him to back his own game, whatever methods he wants to go with. “We always talk about Cheteshwar, he plays slow, but that inning was really important for us. I think those 200 balls were really important for us.”

The third Test starts on Wednesday at Headingley, a venue at which none of the current squad members has played in this format. Number three batsman Cheteshwar Pujara was another India player who had seen his place called into question, but he also played a part in a famous result at the home of cricket. He defied England for 206 deliveries as he ground out a painstaking 45 on day four, finding a way to leave his mark on the game despite struggling for rhythm in recent months.

When asked if it will be a challenge for the team, especially the pacers, Rahane said, “I feel the conditions and wickets here are similar. We are not thinking about the conditions and whatever Headingley has to offer. It is all in the mind. Mentally, we are really strong. It is about having that confidence and putting your best foot forward in this game.”

Lower-order batting still a concern.

He credited the contribution from the lower-order in the first two matches, saying it can be frustrating for the opposition when the tail wags. “Last couple of games, the contributions our lower-order has given us, full credit to them. Since the WTC finals till now, every day they have batted 10-12 minutes in the nets. They have come on their own, and after finishing bowling they also want to spend some time batting. Even if they add 10 runs each, we have a very good score on the board.”

The Mumbai batsman also revealed that pacer Shardul Thakur has recovered from the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the second Test and is available for selection.

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