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Explained: Why stand-in Ajinkya Rahane is being seen as permanent Test captain

Ajinkya Rahane took charge of the team and presided over India's memorable come-from-behind Test series win against Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: January 27, 2021 8:52:34 am
India's Ajinkya Rahane bats during the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia. (AP Photo: Tertius Pickard)

On the heels of 36 all out in Adelaide and Virat Kohli returning home on paternity leave, Ajinkya Rahane took charge of the team and presided over India’s memorable come-from-behind Test series win in Australia. The stand-in skipper led the fightback with a century in Melbourne and throughout the series, his captaincy wowed fans and pundits alike.

How astute was Rahane tactically?

Exhibit 1: Australia went into the fourth day in Brisbane leading by 54 runs and having an entire day to bat India out of the game. India’s ‘second-string’ bowling attack had restricted the hosts below 400 in the first innings but the Gabba pitch was easing out and only one crack on the surface was prominent. David Warner looked to be finally finding his touch.

About an hour into the fourth day, Australia’s lead went past 100 and they still hadn’t lost a wicket in their second innings. Rahane continued with a relatively attacking field — two slips and a gully. Containment wasn’t on his mind, the captain looked for wickets.

Marcus Harris and Warner departed in quick succession. Marnus Labuschagne followed. Matthew Wade went close on his heels and Steve Smith joined them some time later. Suddenly Australia were five down — four of their batsmen were held either by wicketkeeper or in the slip/gully cordon. The other one was out leg-before.

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Rahane’t attacking approach paid off — taking wickets to contain run-scoring was his mantra which ensured that Australia were eventually all out for less than 300 and India’s fourth innings chase was not an improbable one.

Exhibit 2: Rahane came to the crease on the fifth day with India on 132/2. He had to decide whether to take the game to Australia or put down the shutters and play for a draw. A 1-1 scoreline would have allowed India to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. But Rahane went after the Australian bowling, scored 24 off 22 balls before getting out. From his team’s point of view, it was an impact cameo that asserted India’s intent and forced Australia to shun all-out attack. They had to have some fielders in the deep, with Rishabh Pant coming at No. 5 and the visitors playing to win. The template was set; Cheteshwar Pujara took care of one end, while Pant put pressure on the bowlers at the other. Thanks to his skipper’s insight, Pant’s batting flourished at No. 5 after he was promoted up the order in Sydney.

“What about the way they’ve constructed this chase. It’s been brilliant. Tactically brilliant, the skills that we’ve seen on display from India have been brilliant,” former Australia captain Ricky Ponting was effusive in his praise on 7Cricket.

How did Rahane react to his role as captain?

Typical of Rahane, he played down his role and lauded the collective effort. “First of all, it’s an honour to lead your country and it’s not about me, it’s all about the team and that’s what we decided. I looked good because everyone contributed. I don’t give importance to myself, because it was not about me. Everyone contributed for us,” Rahane said at the post-match press conference.

“Having that character on the field and having that fighting spirit on the field; that’s what I always believe in. Your attitude is really important, your work ethic is important and I like to thank our support staff here who backed me a lot and they supported each and every individual,” he added.

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Australia India Cricket Indian players celebrate after defeating Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia. (AP Photo)

Did India embrace a more collective approach under Rahane?

Team huddles had a lot more voices. On many occasions, Ravichandran Ashwin was the speaker-in-chief in team huddles. The senior off-spinner missed the fourth Test due to a back injury but he walked around the boundary rope and came to the field during drinks breaks when India were bowling. He was always talking to the young players, especially Washington Sundar. Similarly, Jasprit Bumrah was mentoring the young fast bowlers. Everybody looked thoroughly involved, with seniors taking the lead.

How significant was Rahane’s innings in Melbourne?

After the Adelaide debacle, India were once again on a slippery slope on 116/4 in their first innings in Melbourne. Rahane led by example and scored a century, which Sunil Gavaskar called “one of the most important hundreds in the history of Indian cricket”.

“(He is) very simple, very calm and composed. Ajinkya, when he is out there, he is not ruffled by anything. He led from the front with his innings in Melbourne, which really set us back on track. And we haven’t looked back since,” the Indian team head coach Ravi Shastri said at the presser.

How experts rated Rahane’s captaincy

Rahane collected the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, held it aloft, called his team-mates, handed over the trophy to T Natarajan and left the scene. On ABC Grandstand radio commentary, legendary former Australia captain Ian Chappell was impressed.

“That’s Rahane for you. When the BCCI will hang a picture of this at its office, the captain will be missing from the group photo. His team mates love him and respect him. They are playing for him,” Chappell said.

“I think I would have really considered keeping @ajinkyarahane88 as Captain for @BCCI !!! Allowing @imVkohli to be the Batsman only would make India even more dangerous & Rahane has an incredible presence & tactical nous about him,” former England captain Michael Vaughan wrote on Twitter.

What about Rahane’s captaincy record?

Rahane first captained India in a home Test against Australia at Dharamsala three years ago. He made a winning start, as India clinched the series decider. So far, the 32-year-old has led India in five Tests – four against Australia and one against Afghanistan. He has four wins and a draw to his credit.

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