CHENNAI: The fragrance of a monumental triumph Down Under is still in the air. Any discussion around cricket in India invariably veers to what Ajinkya Rahane’s boys did through January across three venues in Australia – Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
But for the team itself, the baton of which has passed on to returning captain Virat Kohli, Australia is history now. They are preparing to take on a powerful England side in Chennai and a World Test championship final spot is on the line.
“Australia was special but it’s past now. We savoured our win but now we are completely focussed on the England series,” Indian vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said after a practice session at Chepauk on Wednesday.
It was the team’s second practice session and the boys are slowly getting back into home mode where quite a few things have to change from Australia. The pitch, according to Rahane, will probably help the spinners, whereby the onus will be on Ravichandran Ashwin & Co. to run through England, the way they did in 2016, setting up a 4-0 win.
But Rahane makes it clear that there’s absolutely no complacency in the unit. “We know England are a very good side and they had a great result in Sri Lanka. It’s going to be a tough series and we are prepared for it,” the vice-captain said.
In fact, Rahane isn’t too keen to discuss the coveted WTC final spot (along with New Zealand) either. “It’s still some way off, our aim is to play good cricket in this series,” is all you will get out of him.
The players of this Indian team have been together for a while now, moving from one bubble to the other. The England and Wales Cricket Board feels it’s a huge challenge for players to stay in bubbles for so long and that’s why they have introduced rotation system to keep the boys mentally fresh. But Rahane is quite categorical that it is not an issue at all for them. “We are not mentally fatigued. We are like a family and enjoy each other’s company. The families are here too, so there’s no issue on that front for us,” he said.
The other topic that constantly rears its head is Rahane’s state of mind as he hands over the Indian captaincy to Kohli again. When Kohli left Australia to be with his pregnant wife, India were down in the dumps after being bowled out for 36.
From there, it was Rahane’s inspirational leadership that brought India its most famous series win away from home since Pakistan in 2004. Many feel probably Rahane deserves a little more than the stop-gap captain tag after such a triumph, but the Mumbai man isn’t ready to stoke the fire. “For me, it’s very clear, Virat is our captain and I led in Australia because he had to attend his family. Now I will take a back-seat and will come up with suggestions whenever required,” Rahane said.
Virat’s return also means that Rahane will have to vacate the No. 4 slot where he scored that match-winning hundred at Melbourne. The vice-captain agrees that it will need “a bit of adjustment”, but that’s par for the course for the mild-mannered man.
“I have been batting really well and for me it is all about contributing for the team rather than thinking about my own performance or my own outcome,” Rahane kept it at that.