In the pre-series interaction with the media, Virat Kohli was understandably asked about the equation in the dressing room when it came to handing over the captaincy to Ajinkya Rahane.
Indeed, Kohli immediately spoke about the trust the two shared in the middle. After all, his most prolific partnership has been with Rahane. The two have amassed more than 3,000 runs when they have batted together at a terrific average of 60-plus, going past the 100-mark 10 times. And not once had there been a run out between them.
That run, ironically, came to an end one day after Kohli’s interview. On day one at Adelaide Oval, for the first time in their Test careers, a partnership between them came to an end with a run out that will be talked about for a while.
Of course, run outs are common in cricket. Of course, mistakes happen. But this one had a significant immediate impact on the match and, quite possibly, could have a say on how the series pans out as well. Only for the second time in his Test, Kohli had been run out. It meant that he eventually finished 2020 without an international century, but more relevantly, triggered a sensational collapse from which the Indian batting did not recover: not just in the innings, but for the rest of the match.
Funny old game, cricket.
In the aftermath of Adelaide, here’s a shortlist of things Rahane would have on his immediate to-do list.
- Personally, get over that run out that changed India’s fate in the Adelaide Test. And the duck he made in the second innings, getting out to Josh Hazlewood.
- As a leader, rally the team from the ignominy of 36/9 (well, 36 all out). He had a part to play in India’s lowest score in their Test history and it is now part of his job to jolt the rest of the team out of that.
- A captain, in Test cricket especially, is as good as his bowling attack. And Rahane is all set to be without two of India’s best — Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami — when he walks out for the toss.
That’s just the three priority items and it is already enough to make the task ahead of him seem onerous, and perhaps, impossible. But the greatest sporting stories are often written when an athlete or a team has their back against the wall.
If they are willing to view it that way, for Rahane and India, there are three Test matches to rectify what happened in Adelaide. Imagine if this happened in a series decider, there would have been no immediate bouncing back from that.
For starters, India will be making multiple changes to their XI (forced and otherwise) and Rahane’s first job, along with the management, is to get those right.
Often during the first Test, and in the lead up to it, there were discussions about Rahane’s captaincy and invariably, the Dharamsala Test came up. When India were without Kohli for the series-deciding Test due to a shoulder injury, they had to make a call about their combination. And instead of strengthening a batting unit sans Kohli, Rahane (and then coach Anil Kumble) decided to play an extra bowler, and Kuldeep Yadav proved to be the game-changer.
That move was credited to Rahane (and Kumble) by Kohli and it helped India win the series. It was an aggressive call and one that put extra pressure on Rahane, the batsman too. And it was an aggression that was visible in his batting too, as he slammed the door shut on Australia with a 27-ball 38 to win the match.
“I remember a couple of aspects about his captaincy. What stood out for me was in the Australian first innings, Warner was going well and getting on top of Indian bowlers. He brought in Kuldeep Yadav (debutant) and he dismissed Warner,” Ian Chappell had said recently.
“The second thing I remember was India chasing a low total and they lost a couple of wickets. Rahane just came in and attacked the Australian bowlers. I liked that approach.”
The sample size is too small to make any sweeping judgements, but Indians fans will hope what was seen in Dharamsala — a steely aggression that is different to Kohli’s heart-on-sleeve leadership — is more than just a one off.
And as the captain, Rahane would hope his batting comes to the side’s rescue too. A career that began as one of the more unique case studies, where Rahane did much better overseas than at home, has since not lived up to those expectations.
Former India cricketer Ajay Jadeja during the broadcast on Sony, while making a comparison between Rahul Dravid and Rahane’s evolution, spoke about how the former kept adding elements to his game as his career went on. He made the point that both were similar cricketers when their respective careers started out, with sound technique as a backbone to negate the challenge of playing overseas. But the initial promise Rahane held has not been met.
Ajinkya Rahane away from home (Tests)
As the tables suggest, Rahane’s numbers since India’s overseas cycle began in 2018, have seen significant dips compared to his overall statistics. For instance, he hold an overall average of 41.12 in his visits to Australia, but it has gone down to 28.77 in the last five matches.
Ajinkya Rahane since the start of 2018 (Tests)
|Mat||Inns||Runs||Highest||Ave||100s/ 50s||Balls per inns|
|in AUS||5||9||259||70||28.77||0 / 2||62.11|
|in ENG||5||10||257||81||25.70||0 / 2||63.90|
|in IND||8||9||484||115||60.50||1 / 4||109.00|
|in NZ||2||4||91||46||22.75||0 / 0||70.75|
|in SA||1||2||57||48||28.50||0 / 0||47.50|
|in WI||2||4||271||102||90.33||1/ 2||142.25|
|Overall||23||38||1419||115||39.41||2 / 10||82.26|
Here again, we have seen Rahane deliver when the pressure was significant. Cast your mind back to India’s win in Johannesburg, when India had left Rahane out of the XIs in their first two matches and the series was lost 2-0. On a treacherous pitch in the third match, in what will remain one of India’s most famous overseas wins, Rahane stepped up in the second innings. He batted more than two hours on a minefield, making a crucial 48. From the earlier disappointments of that tour, came an innings that was borne out of a determination to succeed in tough conditions.
He did not see the near impossibility of surviving on that wicket, he saw the challenge. Rahane, the captain, could use that Rahane, the batsman at MCG come Boxing Day and beyond.
As Kohli said before the Test series, this is Rahane’s time to shine.
“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,” Kohli said.
Of course, what else was he going to say. But, after what happened in Adelaide, that statement takes on more meaning than just platitude.
It might not seem like it right now, when the outlook is bleak and predictions of a whitewash rife, but it is a massive opportunity for Rahane to show what he is made of. Test cricket has a knack of rewarding teams and captains who stand up to be counted when it is at its hardest.