Ajinkya Rahane: The stand-in captain with an enviable track record

Of the five Tests that Rahane has captained, India has remained unbeaten - with four wins and a draw.

Ajinkya Rahane making a point to R. Ashwin during the Sydney Test.   -  AP Photo

Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli are different individuals with contrasting personalities. If Kohli loves being aggressive on the field, Rahane prefers to keep things calm and simple.

But when it comes to rising to the occasion, both put the team’s interest above their individual milestones. That’s how it has always been. So, in the absence of Kohli - who is on a paternity leave - when Rahane took charge of the Indian team in Australia, Kohli expected his colleague to ‘step up’.

And Rahane did so with elan.

He scored a match-winning century in Melbourne to lift the team from the Adelaide debacle - where it was bundled out for 36 - which eventually paved the way for the team’s series-leveling win.

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In these trying times, it was always going to be a challenge to stay inside the bio-bubble for long and injury woes led to a situation where the team management literally struggled to put together a 11-member team in Brisbane.

But all the off-field problems had no impact once the ball got rolling at the Gabba and a spirited show by Rahane’s men saw the side breaching the fortress after 32 years and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 2-1 series win.

And soon after winning the game, an emotional Rahane admitted that even “the tears tested sweet” after the iconic win.

It all started in Dharamsala

The job of a stand-in captain is nothing new for Rahane. The 32-year-old has, in the past, fitted into Kohli’s role time and again - and has achieved success. In 2017, when Australia visited India for a Test series, Rahane led the team in the final Test - in the absence of an injured Kohli - and won the series.

A year later, it was under Rahane that India won the lone Test against Afghanistan in Bengaluru.

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Whenever there has been an opportunity, the Mumbaikar has proven his mettle - rather quietly. Of the five Tests that he has captained, India has won on four occasions and one was a draw - at Sydney.

And after retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, head coach Ravi Shastri admitted that this calm and quiet composure has always been the key for ‘captain Rahane’.

“He is very calm and composed and is not ruffled by anything. He led from the front with his innings in Melbourne, which got us on track to challenge Australia and take a lead. We haven’t looked back ever since, which has been tremendous,” Shastri said.

Enjoying the moment

Despite achieving success in Australia, Rahane will be back to being Kohli's deputy in the upcoming home series against England next month. But for now, Rahane just wants to “enjoy this win”.

While he indicates that he will start thinking about England once he reaches India, Rahane perhaps has accepted the fact that he will have to wait for his turn to lead India regularly.

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Former India international and former national coach, Anushuman Gaekwad, however, believes that it is not the time to appoint Rahane as the regular captain. “Anjinkya did a good job. The way he rotated the bowlers and the way he conducted himself and the team - it was different to what we have seen. But then, it is also true that somebody (like him) has to wait for his turn. Whenever he has got an opportunity, he has proved himself. But Virat being there already, you just cannot remove Kohli and bring in Rahane. I don’t think that would be the right thing to do,” Gaekwad told Sportstar.

The former India coach, who is now a member of BCCI’s apex council, is happy with the way the young team has performed.

Rahane has always stepped up well as captain in Kohli's absence.   -  PTI Photo

 

“It shows the character. There has not been any opportunity for them to practice, except for what they did in the IPL. Thereafter going to Australia and performing the way they did was amazing. It’s a huge thing. But let’s not also forget that the thing which the boys achieved has not happened overnight. This has happened over the last five-six years, it has been a process,” Gaekwad said.

“One cannot deny the role of Virat in bringing this team together and taking it to a different level. It is the result of that long process that we see Rahane being ready for the job and despite missing out on six key players, India still delivered and won the series.”

Waiting game

Chandu Borde knows what it feels to be a stand-in captain. The former India international led India once against England in Adelaide Oval after regular captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi sustained an injury. Even though Borde scored 69 and 12, India lost by 146 runs.

 

He never got a chance to lead the team thereafter. While he is excited to see Rahane come a long way, he too, isn’t a fan of split captaincy. “Having played for Mumbai, captaincy comes naturally to Ajinkya and he looks so sorted every time he is handed the big role,” Borde said.

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“The way he captained the side, it looked as if he knew exactly what he wanted to do. And that certainly helped the team. He has the ability to observe whatever is going around and react accordingly - which is incredible.”

So, is it time to hand Rahane a full-time captaincy in Tests?

“Let’s not forget that even Virat has done so well and played a key role in bringing the side so far. It was under him that we won the series in Australia in 2018-19. Rahane is a good captain but one could only think of changing leadership, only if there is a need. For now, it may not be needed,” Borde said.

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