Captain cool Ajinkya Rahane leading from the front

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Ajinkya Rahane
AP
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It is often said that adversity gets the best out of you.

Indian cricket team and especially stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane were in the line of fire in wake of the Australian cricket summer, but spectacularly turned things around to beat Australia against all odds. Come to think of the mindset of the Indian cricket team just before the iconic Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

After the annihilation in Adelaide where India were bowled out for their lowest ever Test score of 36, coming into the second Test at MCG-things looked anything but rosy.

Inspirational skipper Virat Kohli was missing, key fast-bowler Mohammed Shami was injured, Rohit Sharma wasn’t available while Ishant Sharma could not pass the fitness test. The cards were firmly stacked against the Indian team.

Amongst the impressive performances of Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin and debutants Mohammed Siraj and Shubman Gill-it was Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy that stood out. From the way he used Ravichandran Ashwin to calling a team huddle, on-field calmness and longish spells for bowlers, his leadership style was in complete contrast to Virat Kohli’s.

His presence in the middle was just like calm amidst the storm that India sought. The way he batted in the first innings, Rahane showed admirable composure and grit to lead India in a position of strength.

Ajinkya Rahane (L) and Virat Kohli.

Ajinkya Rahane and team selection

Ahead of the MCG Test, which India had won during their last tour-it was inevitable that changes would be made in the Indian team as they looked for a fresh impetus for this match. Two of the changes, of course, were forced changes as influential duo Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami were ruled out citing different reasons. It was a big task as skipper Ajinkya Rahane had to deal with not having the country’s best batsman and one of the best bowlers on his side.

As India named their XI on Christmas day, there were murmurs that the team had pressed the panic button and that they were admitting that the selection for Adelaide was wrong. Some even wondered why there was not the fifth change to include KL Rahul to strengthen the batting.

And to Rahane’s credit most of the changes that he made paid rich dividends as Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj excelled with the ball while Ravindra Jadeja was instrumental with both bat and ball at MCG. Having used Jadeja as the fifth also allowed Rahane to manoeuvre his bowlers more effectively, and kept the team in good stead despite Umesh Yadav’s untimely injury. The two spinners kept Australian top-order at bay for most of the duration of the match.

One key thing Rahane did was to confide in Ashwin as the first change bowler. In both the Tests of the Border-Gavaskar series, Ashwin has outbowled Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon. In Melbourne, the Chennai-born spinner got turn, bounce, drift, flight, dip and more importantly, success-all thanks to inspired tweaks on Rahane’s part.

Ajinkya Rahane the captain

One key stat to come after the Melbourne Test! Ajinkya Rahane has won all three of his matches as the captain of the Indian team in the Test format.

One of the most important things about the nature of the win was, it was not just Rahane’s flawless batting that stood out, but it was his captaincy! There was a calmness about Rahane’s captaincy and assurance about his moves on the field. He was aggressive, positive, and set attacking fields. All this calmly, almost with a smile.

It was confirmation of another theory — that you can be a successful captain either in the assertive Virat Kohli manner or in the composed Rahane manner. It showed too just how important Rahane is as vice-captain to Kohli — vice-captains play important roles, nonchalantly behind the scenes.

Now, the win sparked off a debate whether Rahane should be made a full-time Test captain ahead of Virat Kohli. We don’t know the answer to that yet, but all Indian cricket fans and Rahane himself would again hope to replicate his performance with the bat when India face Australia in the third Test that starts on January 7 from Sydney.

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