As Virat Kohli flies out of Australia, leaving in his wake the disappointment of Adelaide, Ajinkya Rahane will quietly assume the role of captain for the remainder of the series. We take a look at Rahane’s leadership resume ahead of the arduous challenge.
It is often said that the job of leading the Indian team is harder than that of being the country’s prime minister. While equating the two would be unfair to either profession, for Rahane, India’s stand-in captain in Australia, the task has reached Herculean proportions.
Rahane has been a central figure in the Test team for years now, a diligent, respected athlete who became a senior statesman in his late twenties. He’s someone who is known to quietly brew up tactics, and abstains from verbal jousts and mental battles, preferring to carry a cool persona on the field, quite the antithesis to India’s full-time skipper. Yet, given the full-time roles of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, Rahane’s captaincy stints have been limited to one-off instances.
Ajinkya Rahane – the India captain
Rahane was named India’s 33rd men’s Test captain when Kohli injured his shoulder in the middle of Australia’s tour to India in 2017, consequently missing the final game. In his absence, Rahane admirably took over, leading the team to a series-clinching win in the Dharamsala Test, which helped them get back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) December 19, 2020
Earlier this month, Ian Chappell was effusive in his praise for Rahane, revealing that he was mightily impressed by the stand-in skipper’s aggressive instincts in that series, particularly the use of debutant Kuldeep Yadav. “Well, I saw him captain in one Test against Australia (in Dharamsala) and found his captaincy to be fabulous. He was really an aggressive captain.”
A year later, Rahane was at the helm when India played the historic Test against first-timers Afghanistan in Bengaluru, leading them to a massive win inside two days. Rarely in the spotlight, Rahane’s heartwarming decision to invite the losing team for a combined photo-op earned him plenty of plaudits.
His ODI captaincy experience has been limited to three games, leading India to a 3-0 over against Zimbabwe in 2015, when he led a second-string team in the absence of Kohli and Dhoni.
Rahane has extensive experience of leading sides at different levels and grades. Back in 2004, when he was slowly earning his name as a batting phenom, Rahane captained Mumbai Under-17s in the Vijay Merchant Trophy. Two years later, he was leading the National Cricket Academy against state association XIs and, unsurprisingly, progressed to captain Mumbai U19s.
In 2007, he led the West Zone U19 side in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, India’s 50-over competition, the same year he broke into Mumbai’s first-class team.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) December 14, 2020
As his career grew leaps and bounds, Rahane’s captaincy stints diminished, and his batting took centre stage. After his India debut in 2011, Rahane took time to clinch a place in all three formats, but once his position was sealed, he became the ideal supporting hand in the leadership group. By 2016, he had ascended to the vice-captaincy.
Parallel to his international career, Rahane has also led India’s developmental teams at different points in his career, captaining the ‘A’ sides during away tours, or leading them when visiting teams featured in practice games.
His IPL batting record might not be as spectacular as some of India’s other limited-overs superstars, but Rahane has been a rock-solid presence for years, both for Rajasthan Royals and Rising Pune Supergiant. His captaincy record, however, remains modest.
He took on RR’s captaincy after their return to the IPL in 2018 and led them to the playoffs. However, he was let go midway through the 2019 edition, being replaced by Steve Smith for the remainder of the tournament.
Between 2017 and 2019, Rahane led RR and RPS in 25 games combined, winning only nine of them and losing 16.
Pravin Amre, Rahane’s long-time coach, told Wisden India that the challenge of taking on Australia, especially after the Adelaide debacle, is “not going to be easy”, but trusts Rahane to use the experience of the Dharamsala Test to remind himself that he “has done the job before,” and take it as an “opportunity to show what you are made of.”
“His nature – we talk how he’s calm and composed, which is also important as a captain, and he’s liked by the entire team because he is easy to approach, and good communication-wise. He also has the experience of leading IPL sides where there are international cricketers.”
While Kohli is known to be expressive, Rahane is more thoughtful and reserved, but Amre feels that the team will be just as comfortable with the stand-in skipper at the helm.
“Players are used to it a bit. They have mostly played under Virat, it’ll be a bit different, but that won’t matter. As captain, both will take most of the same decisions that are helpful for the team, because those are just their personal styles, but they’ll be doing the same job that is required at the moment.”
For the first time in his Test career, Rahane has a chance to move out of someone’s shadow and lead with a free hand. It remains to be seen if he revels in the role, or gets beaten by the circumstances.