During his cerebral and emotional 20-minute felicitation speech in Mumbai after his international retirement in 2012, batting great Rahul Dravid came up with numerous memorable lines. However, this one, used to describe his relationship with Sourav Ganguly, stood out.
“Sourav. Ours was a great partnership. As you would agree, with captains and vice-captains, over many years, the relationship is a bit like husbands and wives. It has ups and downs.”
Without saying a lot, Dravid said everything about what goes on between a captain and his deputy. While it can be safely assumed that both have a common goal of doing their best to make a cricket team win, naked ambition can make one do funny things.
The 17th century British author and puritan preacher, Thomas Brooks, once said, “Ambition is a gilded misery, a secret poison, a hidden plague, the engineer of deceit, the mother of hypocrisy, the parent of envy and the original of vices.”
With Virat Kohli back at the helm as Indian captain for the series against England, there has been voluble chatter about whether deputy Ajinkya Rahane, who led India inspirationally in Australia in Kohli’s absence, is indeed a better leader.
Kohli, the energy-oozing cricketer, whose charisma, awe-inspiring performances and saleability, has often hogged the spotlight vs the understated and calm Rahane, who embraced the odds Down Under without fuss and empowered others to perform above their potential.
Under Rahane, senior players like Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin became leaders and suddenly the team huddle saw many players, who usually stayed silent, find a voice.
Kohli, away on paternity leave, would have seen that and he is smart to not imbibe some of the traits that Rahane showed and bring to the ground a more accommodative version of himself.
The new dad would be comforted by the fact that Rahane does not see himself as a full-time captain, at least as of now, unlike the white-ball format where things are not that straight forward with deputy Rohit Sharma eyeing the job. “Nothing changes. Virat was and will always be the captain of the Test team and I am his deputy. Virat and I have always shared a good bonding with each other,” Rahane said last week.
But is it so simple? Doesn’t ego get in the way. What happens when stand-in captains make way for regular captains in international teams?
Former India skipper and chief selector, Dilip Vengsarkar, who made way for current coach Ravi Shastri to become captain in the famous win in Chennai vs West Indies in 1988 where Narendra Hirwani picked up 16 wickets on debut, and an ODI tourney in Sharjah later, before coming back, told TOI, “It doesn’t really matter when normal service resumes. Captains and vice-captains usually work together and even senior players, despite not being in leadership roles, walk up to the captain to offer suggestions. Even in the dressing room, things do not change a lot. Stand-in captains know they are only there for a limited time. It is a bit like a normal captain goes into the dressing room to attend to health or injury concerns and the vice-captain takes over and suddenly wickets fall. But he has to make way when the regular skipper comes back on to the field.”
Vengsarkar also recalled the time when Mohammad Azharuddin led the side with five former captains in it. “Neither he nor the former captains had issues,” he said.
Bowling coach Bharat Arun, while speaking to R Ashwin on the spinner’s YouTube channel, though offered an interesting insight. “Rahane backs players and looks calm and even if a bowler goes wrong, he might not be scared of the captain. He knows that he will be backed. With Virat, if you bowl two bad balls, it might look like he will get angry, but that’s just his energy. Ajinkya brings the calmness.”
Prior to the Test series, legendary opener Sunil Gavaskar told TOI that India had always played well in Kohli’s absence. While Rahane has proved that theory right in some ways, Kohli’s captaincy record of 33 Test wins and 14 series wins out of 20 speaks for itself.
His aggressive style may appear imposing. Some of his calls, like dropping Rahane in South Africa and Pujara in England, both in 2018, and the systematic and curious culling of both Rahane and Ashwin from the white-ball teams and the barbs at Pujara’s perceived lack of intent, defied logic and gave rise to theories that he wanted to eliminate all potential rivals for captaincy.
But now having seen how others have blossomed under Rahane’s quiet style, will he change tack? Or will he get even more ruthless?