“I have said this previously as well that I feel like this is his time to really step up and perform strongly as an individual and then as a captain as well.”
Many people in the cricketing fraternity would have interpreted Virat Kohli’s words as yet another instance of the gung ho attitude of the Indian captain ahead of an important Test series. Maybe Kohli was just trying to bolster the confidence of Ajinkya Rahane who would stand in for him for the remaining Australia tour after the Adelaide Test. In all fairness, confidence in Rahane’s potential as a batsman and a captain for the series is not without merit.
Kohli has always been seen as the next big hope of Indian cricket, while Rahane had to spend his time as a reserve for 13 series before making his Test debut. Yet, in Test cricket, it was the Mumbai batsman who made a better impression, especially in the tougher overseas conditions, while Kohli was dropped after his first tour of West Indies. Eleven Test hundreds in 66 matches are not exactly the numbers that confirm greatness but it is not below par either. If Rahane ever needed an opportunity to be recognised, it is now.
Also read: Herculean task ahead, Rahane allows himself a few smiles
Boxing Day challenge
As the Boxing Day match in Melbourne looms, Rahane is at a critical juncture in his Test career. The remaining three Tests will either revive his red-ball cricket or push him to irrelevance, depending on the runs he gets on board. If he manages to pull a win or two, it will put him back in contention for leading India’s Test squad.
“He’s a bowler’s captain. He’s not someone who’d say ‘do this or do that’,” said Ishant Sharma, who is missing the Test series due to injury, in an interview to Espncricinfo.com.
While Kohli’s approach to captaincy is well known, Sharma said Rahane had something special to offer as well. “Jinks (Rahane) spreads calm energy in a pressure situation. There won’t be any tension, he’d communicate with the bowlers very well,” Sharma said.
Remember Dravid and Gilchrist?
As a child, Rahane always looked up to his hero Rahul Dravid. Call it a coincidence, Rahane can derive inspiration from Dravid’s career on leading admirably in the forced-absence of an iconic captain. India’s only Test series win was built on Dravid’s stand-in captaincy when he declared the innings when Sachin Tendulkar was just short of 6 runs from a famous double hundred.
Sourav Ganguly did come back for the final Test in Rawalpindi but it was Dravid’s 270 that tilted the series in India’s favour. Like Dravid, former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, too, thrived on the challenge of captaining his side during a tough tour of India in 2004-05. Regular captain Ricky Ponting had to go back because of injury and Gilly won a historic series—something Australia had been dreaming of for 35 years.
Cricket is replete with stories of vice-captains stepping up to the challenge in the most trying of circumstances.
“Each person has his own way of reacting and responding to situations, but I can assure you everyone’s destination is one; they’ve different routes to get there—and that is how they can make India win. So, Ajinkya’s would be a different style, different strategies,” Tendulkar was quoted as saying by Business Standard.
Free from the burden of expectations
The one advantage Rahane will have will be that of lower expectations. Last time India won its first-ever Test series on Australian soil in nearly 70 years and Kohli was under tremendous pressure to do an encore. His captaincy would have been judged by the result of this series since he didn’t win either in England, South Africa or New Zealand, the SENA countries considered the ultimate test for captains from the subcontinent. Rahane will not only be missing the best batsman of the generation but the absence of Mohammed Shami will also be felt equally. Hence, there won’t be any unrealistic burden of expectations for the stand-in captain.
Critics, however, won’t be sparing if batsman Rahane fails to deliver. Regardless of the result, the primary challenge for Rahane will be to achieve the consistency that made him an equal to Kohli in Test cricket at the beginning of his career.
Time to do a Kohli
In the Adelaide Test of 2014-15, Kohli rose to the occasion twice, by scoring a ton in each innings. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had relinquished the captaincy unexpectedly after the series loss in Australia and Kohli’s bold approach as batsman and captain earned him plaudits. India didn’t win that Adelaide Test but nearly spoiled Australia’s party. Rahane can take the same route.
In his first 13 Test series, Rahane was remarkably consistent and that was the reason he was picked over Ravichandran Ashwin, a bigger match-winner, as the Test vice-captain. It was his hopelessly turbulent tour of Sri Lanka in 2017 that shook his confidence. Rahane was not among the playing XI for the first two games of the next year’s South Africa tour. India lost the games and when he played in the last Test in Johannesburg, he showed that like class, grit, too, is permanent.
In the two years since the Adelaide Test in Australia, Rahane has scored nearly 1,000 runs at an average of 47, higher than his career average of 43.
“I am pretty confident that Jinks will do a tremendous job,” Kohli said before the series and India is hoping he’ll come good as a captain and a batsman.