Ajinkya Rahane Showed There’s Another Way of Playing the Sport
Rahane is captaining India for the final 3 Tests of the Border-Gavaskar trophy after Virat returned home to India.
They are two ends of the spectrum really and sum up the beauty of Test batting in any era. Virat Kohli is aggression personified and at the other end is Cheteshwar Pujara, who is zen-like in blocking his way to run-making.
But somewhere in between the two spectrums lies Ajinkya Rahane. A player who can slice you through the off-side with grace and at the same time manage to find his inner Pujara to pull shutters down when things get tough.
During his 12th Test century, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, during the second Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test, we saw a bit of both worlds in Rahane’s batting which really typified his personality as a cricketer. Rahane’s approach alone steered India towards a strong performance in the second Test after the horrors of the first match, when the visitors had been bowled out for a shambolic 36.
To pull a side out of the morass and put it on the verge of a historic win, showed the character of the leader of the side, Rahane. His steely determination and quiet demeanour played a huge part in India pulling away from Australia quite effortlessly in the first innings.
There were times during the first innings when Rahane could have thrown in the towel, but he realised that this was a Test for him to step up and show his worth to the side.
Over the last couple of years, he has been pushed into a corner by an over-aggressive team think-tank, led by regular captain Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri. Ideally, as the vice-captain of the Test squad, Rahane should have been part of the think-tank, but it is no secret that in this regime, nothing is certain.
They had even dropped Rahane from the first Test in South Africa in the 2017-18 series, only to see him make a return and play a terrific rearguard knock in the final match. He did everything that was asked of him to be part of the ODI squad, but yet he was cast away despite being ideally suited for the middle-order role.
Rahane despite being part of the current holy trinity that defines India’s Test batting, alongside Pujara and Kohli, has always been made to feel like he is the most dispensable. Nothing summed this up more than when Kohli announced that he was going to come back to India on paternity leave, everyone almost guffawed at the news that Rahane would lead the side. Everyone had conveniently forgotten that he was the nominated vice-captain in Tests and the next in line to lead. All judgments obviously were clouded by the surfeit of white ball cricket and Rahane’s absence from the format.
In the two instances that Rahane had led India in Tests – against Australia in a decisive Dharamshala Test in 2017 and against Afghanistan in their inaugural match in 2018 – he had always shown that he could be an alternative in the way he approached the role.
In the Boxing Day Test for example, we saw numerous examples of Rahane’s approach. He was firm, quiet and assertive while leading the side. He did not jump around unnecessarily, did not celebrate outlandishly but yet was aggressive in his own way.
Over the years, we have wanted our cricketers to behave like their rivals. So, if you were in the 1980s or 1990s, people wanted our cricket stars to behave like Javed Miandad. Then in the early 2000s, we wanted our cricketers to be loutish like the Aussies. So when Sourav Ganguly came along and jumped in joy, we believed that was aggression and then when we saw a Kohli being in-your-face, it was branded as the face of a new assertive India.
Everyone quietly forgot that aggression can also be in the form of placing your fields aggressively. Getting your close-in fielders in the eyeline of the batsmen and making them think. That is also aggression. Making a change in the bowling when no one expects is also as much a tactic as it is aggression.
We have had to redefine the meaning of aggression in the way Rahane led India in the second Test at the MCG.
He was a bowler’s captain, listened to them and made changes accordingly. You could see that he was firm in his own way, commanded respect of his players even as they dithered at times for DRS. That showed his confident approach on the field and showed he was in command. You do not always have to shout to make a point, Rahane is perhaps the best example for that and there could also be a lesson for our primetime news anchors in that.
Suddenly during the MCG Test, there seemed to be a collective leadership approach that seemed to be lacking in the last few years. Everyone seemed involved, everyone participated in giving suggestions, but there was only one man in charge – Rahane.
Even in his batting when he got to his hundred eventually the usual histrionics associated was missing. Just a simple way of raising the bat and then letting the world know your joy was enough for Rahane. You know, even if you jump in joy like David Warner or abuse the world like some others, the score next to your name remains 100.
The outpouring of wishes for Rahane was almost spontaneous and showed how he is probably the most liked of the current lot. Perhaps it was also the long gaps between his three-figure marks that make the cricket world yearn for more from him.
This is in no way an indictment of Kohli’s captaincy, his celebrations or his general demeanour.
This is just an appreciation of Rahane’s performance, which should probably open the eyes of the Indian cricket fraternity, for them to see that there is perhaps another way of playing the sport.
Remember, there are no rights or wrongs in sport, just different approaches that need to be celebrated for bringing us unbridled joy.
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