Rahane ticked two very important boxes in style – Ajinkya the batsman, and Ajinkya the captain. He played one of the most crucial knocks in Indian Test history under difficult circumstances against a high quality Australian bowling line up and notch up a match winning 112, to walk away with the Man of the match award. He, also, with his calm and composed demeanor, showed exemplary leadership skills in India’s comeback win after the horror in Adelaide. His quietly aggressive captaincy style, field placements, bowling changes and the decision to back debutants Mohammed Siraj and Shubman Gill in what was an extremely crucial Test in the context of the four-Test series have been praised by one and all.
India came into the second Test at MCG after an embarrassing loss in Adelaide, which also saw the Virat Kohli-led team being skittled out for a meagre 36 in their second innings, their lowest ever Test innings total.
Kohli, who left on paternity leave after the Adelaide Test, handed over the captaincy baton to Rahane for the remainder of the series (three Tests) and the Mumbaikar delivered in his own style. Rahane showed great character to inspire India to a remarkable win against Australia to level the series at 1-1.
Interestingly, Rahane, as Test captain, has a 100% win record. He has captained three Tests so far and won all three. The first was vs Australia in 2017 in Dharamsala, when India won by 8 wickets and then vs Afghanistan in Bengaluru in 2018. India won that match by an innings and 262 runs.
Rahane’s long time coach and mentor Pravin Amre praised India’s stand-in captain and said his student has taken on the responsibility of being captain really well.
“If you ask me, I worked only with Ajinkya the batsman. The captaincy or leadership quality is his own. Virat is the captain and when he is not there, Ajinkya took over the duties. So, I will give credit to Ajinkya for being Ajinkya the captain. Be it batting or leading the side, he is so calm. That’s his style. Some are aggressive and some go over the board, but Ajinkya is calm and composed,” Amre told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
“Ajinkya is always ready with the plans. Ajinkya has batted at No. 1 and No. 6 as well. He is always ready to bat at any position. It’s always team first for him. He is always ready to do the job.” Amre, who played 11 Tests and 37 ODIs for India between 1991 and 1994 further said.
THE ADELAIDE NIGHTMARE AND OPPORTUNITY FOR DEBUTANTS – GILL & SIRAJ
In the crucial second Test match at the MCG, two youngsters – pacer Mohammed Siraj and young opening batsman Shubman Gill were handed their Test caps.
Playing their debut match in whites, both Gill and Siraj justified their selections and impressed everyone with their performances.
Gill scored 45 (first innings) and 35 not out (second innings) in the MCG Test, while Siraj claimed five wickets in India’s win. Siraj in fact is only behind Lasith Malinga (6 wickets) for the most wickets taken by an overseas debutant in a Test in Australia.
“The best thing I liked is how Ajinkya backed the two debutants. Backing debutants Gill and Siraj in the crucial Test at MCG was a very big call from Ajinkya. His gut feeling was there that the two youngsters can deliver. Those two guys were waiting for a long time and when they got the opportunity, they grabbed it with both hands. They are fresh and they don’t have any baggage with them,” Amre further told TimesofIndia.com.
“This is one of the toughest phases for Indian cricket. You lost the first Test and also were all out for 36. Someone had to take that responsibility. I am glad that Ajinkya has taken that responsibility. Team India are missing Virat badly because he is the ultimate run-machine for the team. He has got runs on many tours, including Australia. He went on paternity leave. So, from there Ajinkya has taken on the responsibility and captaincy role really well. He is a captain but it is very important for you to perform as a batsman too,” he said
“Ajinkya was number one as a captain and as a batsman. He performed the dual role really well. He has done a commendable job. He was involved in three major partnerships and that’s why we got more than 100 runs lead. This was an amazing victory. Ajinkya and the team as well as fans will remember this win for a long time,” Amre who has coached Rahane since Rahane was 17 and is still his mentor said.
THE WAY FORWARD FOR AJINKYA RAHANE IN THE TEST SERIES
The most important thing for Rahane the captain and the entire team will be to make sure that they don’t rest on their laurels. The Boxing Day Test is now history. The bigger goal of trying to win the series and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is what is the big priority. Considering Rahane’s call to the team was to show intent and character ahead of the second Test, we can expect the Indian team to not let the intensity drop. A win in the Sydney Test could well be a knock out blow for the Aussies.
There are also multiple changes to the playing XI to consider. Rohit Sharma, could be given the green light to play. Who does he replace? KL Rahul is another contender for a playing XI spot. The team also needs a replacement for Umesh Yadav.
The two players most likely to make way are Mayank Agarwal, who has been struggling at the top of the order, having scored 17 and 9 in the first Test and 5 and 0 in the second and Hanuma Vihari, who so far has scores of 16 and 8 in the first Test and 21 in the second.
The team management, including Rahane the captain will have to make some very important calls going into the third Test in Sydney, which could well be the series definining match.
“Ajinkya has to maintain his statement – ‘stay in the moment’. Go into SCG Test considering MCG win as history. This is the thing I want to convey to Ajinkya. MCG win is a big morale booster for the team but they need to look forward and live in the moment. Because you are playing in Australia and anything can happen. You have won this Test but you can lose the next two Tests,” Amre further told TimesofIndia.com.
“So, India need to be alert, produce good cricket to be a winner in Australia and as Ajinkya says ‘stay in the moment’,” the 52-year-old former India cricketer signed off.