When the news broke out that captain Virat Kohli would be forced to sit out of the fourth and final Test match against Australia, the fans of the Indian cricket team were clenching their teeth in nervousness. Not only would they miss the best batsman in the world, but also a brilliant aggressive captain who can take the attack to the Aussies.
When Lokesh Rahul had stroked the ball through the midwicket region for the winning runs, those nervous clenchings were transformed to wide smiles. Not only had the Indian team proved that they can win without their top batsman, but also they had shown that there is an equally able captain who, although not exactly cut out from the same cloth as Kohli, can stand in for him when needed.
Ajinkya Rahane drew immense praise from many former cricketers and pundits alike for his exemplary captaincy.
Here, we list five things from the Test match in Dharamsala that prove that Rahane can be a great bet as a captain.
#5 Awareness on the field
One of the most underrated qualities of a good captain in cricket is his ability to read the game and to be in the know of everything. This is one aspect in which, I believe, Rahane should get full marks.
Even before the match had started, Rahane had done his homework and knew what the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition as well as his own side were. Through the course of the match, Rahane always appeared in control of everything.
He did not simply use the DRS just for the sake of it and only assorted to it when he was a hundred percent sure. In fact, during Australia’s first innings not a single review was taken by Rahane (and it was not because it was unavailable but simply because there was no need).
It was his awareness on the field that helped him take so many crucial decisions and, in turn, helped India take home the series.
#4 Bowling changes
Rahane is not a born leader, nor does he have much experience as a captain. However, it was evident from what we saw in the fourth Test that as he had progressed as a batsman and as a cricketer, he has never stopped learning.
He was seen discussing with the senior players like Cheteshwar Pujara before making a crucial bowling change. At the same time, though, he relied on his own instincts. When Australia came out to bat on Day Three, Rahane persisted with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav for a long time at the start of the innings, something that is not seen often in Indian conditions.
The way he was rotating his bowlers, especially the pacers was something noteworthy. Australia were cruising at lunch on Day One, and yet, as soon as play resumed after the customary break, Rahane handed Kuldeep Yadav the bowl ahead of the number one and number two Test bowlers in the world.
Ashwin and Jadeja were not very effective as the pitch was not offering much turn. Had Rahane not persisted with Kuldeep, Australia may well have crossed the 400 mark and things would have been very different.
#3 Field placements
Throughout the Test match in Dharamsala, one thing that stood out was Rahane’s field settings. Whether it was when David Warner and Steve Smith were clobbering the bowlers or when Matthew Wade was desperately trying to delay the inevitable, the field was set as the bowler wanted it to be (even when Kuldeep was bowling).
Giving the bowler the field he wants shows that the captain has confidence in him. The bowler might go for a few runs but it is important to back the bowler and egg him on to bowl wicket-taking deliveries. And that’s what Rahane did so well throughout the match.
Another interesting observation is that while Rahane is as calm and composed as it gets, the aggression could be seen in the field settings. Even when Australia were off to a flying start in the first session of Day One, there were at least two-three fielders in catching positions.
At the same time, though, the flow of runs was controlled. The singles were being saved, and there were even a few raiders on the boundary line. Rahane looked like he was always in control.
#2 Not afraid to take bold decisions
Whether it was playing with five bowlers when the team’s top batsman was missing or giving the untested Kuldeep Yadav his debut, Rahane showed the world that he was not afraid of taking risky and yet, brave decisions.
Rahane knew that this was a one-off Test when he would be captain. When your top batsman is missing and additionally, the opposition bowlers have been bowling in tandem, what does a new captain do? Play it safe and include another batsman, right? Rahane, however, chose to include a fifth bowler. He was quick to realise that to win a Test match you need to take 20 wickets.
The fact that Kuldeep was picked ahead of the likes of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma on a pitch that is known to assist pacers was yet another masterstroke. Ishant was visibly tired from the long season and Shami was just coming back from an injury lay-off. On the other hand, Kuldeep was fresh and, more importantly, was an unknown entity.
On the hindsight, it was the decisions that Rahane took in his first Test as a captain that paved the way for India’s victory more than anything else.
#1 Calmness on the field
As everyone has observed, Rahane is one of the calmest members of this young Indian side. He has the temperament, the composure that a captain should have. It is not like he is not aggressive – you can see the aggression in his eyes – but he is not overly animated.
On one hand, there is Kohli, who is the epitome of aggression on the field. On the other, there is Rahane, who would never hurl abuses at his opposition or make controversial statements in press conferences.
Having said that, Kohli is not a bad captain. In fact, he is, in all probability, the best person to lead this Indian side. But the mere presence of Rahane in the team is assuring. Kohli is like Sourav Ganguly but with every Sourav Ganguly you need a Rahul Dravid in your team and that is where Rahane comes in. Fire and ice, if you ask me – the perfect combination.
The Indian cricket fan knows that when Kohli will not be there for some reason, there will be Rahane to lead the team in his own way and that in itself is assuring.