Kolkata: Ajinkya Rahane, the soft-spoken Test vice-captain of India, is used to living in the shadows of Virat Kohli. However, in the limited opportunities that he got for himself to lead India in two Tests, the Mumbaikar has an all-win record at home - one against Australia in 2017 and another one against minnows Afghanistan.
The upcoming three Tests against an Australian side with their tails up will be a different kettle of fish though, but the shy, nervous smile of ‘Jinks’ can be deceptive about the steel in the man. Now 32 and certainly one of the elder statesman of India’s red ball cricket set-up, Rahane took the first step by trying to rationalise their Adelaide disaster less than a week back.
“In the last Test match, we had two good days, just one bad hour where we actually lost it completely but the chat after that was all about backing ourselves as individuals and as team and play to our strengths and whatever we had planned in the first Test match just stick to that,” Rahane said in a virtual chat with the media on eve of the Boxing Day Test which gets under way from Saturday.
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The visitors took a calculated gamble by making four changes to their team, with a technically sound Shubman Gill coming in for out-of-form opener Prithvi Shaw and Mohammad Siraj replacing the injured Shami. Rishabh Pant takes over from Wriddhiman Saha as wicketkeeper while experienced allrounder Ravindra Jadeja is back from injury - as KL Rahul will still have to wait for his turn. The task is really cut out for Rahane, customarily a No.5 batsman, as he is likely to step in Kohli’s place at number four - a spot ususally taken by the most experienced and capable batsman in the side in Sachin Tendulkar and then the current Indian captain.
“From the 2017 Test (at Dharamsala), I learnt about backing your instincts as captain and remaining calm under pressure. So, I think my thought is to just back own methods which I ideally focus on. I learnt a lot from it,” said Rahane.
“I am not focussing on myself but on the team. It is a proud moment for me to lead India. It’s a great opportunity and responsibility as well. I don’t want to take any pressure,” he said before adding, “Yes we had one bad session. But we are playing well and are a good batting and bowling unit. I stay calm and cool but my batting is generally aggressive. I bat from my instincts… We will back our basics and back our plan. We just had one bad hour. It is all about staying positive, backing own ability and batting in partnerships. Communication and batting in partnerships matters a lot. We are just focusing on that.”
The topic of Rahane being responsible for the run-out of Kohli in the first innings of the first Test, which cut short the latter’s 74-run knock, came up and the stand-in captain was quite candid. “It was really tough, we were going well at that moment. The partnership was going well and good. I could see the momentum going towards Australia. After the end of day’s play, I said sorry to him. He was okay. He understood it… but such things happen in cricket and we have to respect it,” said Rahane.
The Indian team had a get-together and a team dinner before Kohli left Adelaide for India where the latter gave a pep-talk.
“We met Virat before he left Adelaide. We had our team dinner. He spoke to all the boys and said, ‘just be yourselves, play your game as a team’. He asked all of us to stay positive, play to our strength and just play as a team and as a unit. That is what we were doing all the year, it is all about that. All about the strength, playing for each other, enjoying each other’s success.”
Rahane though said he doesn’t want to disturb Kohli in his moment of celebration. “I don’t want to disturb him now, because this time is really special and just want to wish him and his family well.”
When: December 26-30 (3.30 am IST, 2 pm UAE) W
Where: Melbourne Cricket Ground (30,000 restricted capacity)
Match officials (all Australian) Umpires: Rod Tucker, Paul Reiffel Third umpire: Bruce Oxenford Match referee: David Boon.
Australia: Matthew Wade, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (wicketkeeper-captain), Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.
Previous MCG Tests: 1948 - Australia won by 233 runs 1948 - Australia won by an innings and 177 runs 1967 - Australia won by an innings and four runs 1977 - India won by 222 runs 1981 - India won by 59 runs 1985 - Match drawn 1991 - Australia won by eight wickets 1999 - Australia won by 180 runs 2003 - Australia won by nine wickets 2007 - Australia won by 337 runs 2011 - Australia won by 122 runs 2014 - Match drawn 2018 - India won by 137 runs RESULTS First test (Adelaide): Australia won by eight wickets
Remaining fixtures: Jan. 7-11 Third Test, Sydney Cricket Ground; Jan. 15-19 Fourth Test, The Gabba, Brisbane.