Ajinkya Rahane captained in his first Test in Dharamsala, and did so with aplomb. Even though, often the only barometer for this aplomb was when the Australians bombed themselves. Still, as they say, you can’t take anything away from Rahane, he was captain, ace slipper, and vitally, the fury at No 4. Whatever you forget, it’s doubtful you’ll forget those twin sixes off consecutive balls; at least Pat Cummins won’t.
But imagine — or allow me to — Rahane was not captain. Say, what if someone else was, what would’ve happened. The possibilities, while not being endless, are at least ten in number.
Let’s start with the most likely candidate after Rahane – Ashwin. If nothing else, Ashwin would’ve stationed himself at first slip, to reduce the pretense of any fielding to a minimum. After a few drops at first slip, he would’ve either moved himself to second slip or leg slip. Or still better, a wide leg slip. Regardless of whichever slip he would’ve fielded in, he would’ve ensured a backup fielder — either at third man or fine leg. This way, he could gingerly chase the ball (as he has through the series) to order the said fielder with a stern command such as, “KEEPER!” or something equally stern such as, “BOWLER!”
In addition to these fielding shenanigans, Ashwin would ace the reviews. He would still nod rapidly (vertically) after his furious appeals, though more out of habit than in the hope of convincing the captain. He would jog mid-pitch to Saha and the others, and review with maximum determination and minimum dialogue with his mates. Ashwin would use both the reviews, quite possibly the first two times the ball would make contact with the pads. When turned down, he would nod rapidly (horizontally). In the post-match interview, he would speak at length about his bowling and how Jadeja had supported him — even if it was obvious that he had supported Jadeja.
If not Ashwin, imagine if Pujara was captain — he would’ve promoted himself to open, simply stating that he was sick of waiting for the obvious, that is, the first wicket, which always seemed to fall, sooner rather than later. Like Ashwin, Pujara too would post himself close in through the innings, at either forward short leg or silly point. He would get himself a full body protective suit which he would wear underneath his whites. As captain, he would try and set an example, and chase balls, albeit greatly hampered by the full body protective suit. When asked how it compared to running in shin guards, he would say in his usual dead pan way, that all the preparations had been made, the suit was good because he had trained in it during the ODI series (his off-season) and they would bowl the Australians out in no time at all. As captain, he wouldn’t bother running suicidal singles to impress his peers.
If Jadeja was skipper, he would use both the reviews off the first two balls bowled by him — never mind whether it hit the batsman’s pad or the batsman’s bat, that he had bowled it would be enough for him to take a wicket. Instead of making the review symbol, Jadeja would review with his very own sword-slashing symbol. When ignored and not reviewed by the umpire, he would look quite puzzled but pay it little heed and mechanically bowl another delivery. Jadeja would bowl unchanged from one end for the entire course of the Australian innings. In a full day, if Australia lasted, India would bowl at least 110 overs. Expectedly, Jadeja’s rapid over-rate would baffle umpires and batsmen alike, and he would often end up bowling 12 ball overs and sometimes from both ends.
Murali Vijay as captain would make leaving the ball an integral part of the net session. With this in mind, quick bowlers would be instructed to bowl only outside off. After being dismissed nicking one behind himself, Vijay would instruct some hapless seamers to bowl at him in the nets — outside off of course. Off spinners would be treated with disdain, Ashwin included, who he would hit repeatedly over his head in the nets. After taking a catch, Vijay would slyly ask the umpire to review. He would even bowl a few overs to keep himself from dozing off in the slips.
If Saha was skipper, he’d be in a real quandary with reviews, waiting for his mates to take a call and make the review. When reminded of his captaincy, he would reluctantly, and somewhat shyly ask for a review. It would be similar in the team huddles when everyone would look to him to speak — and he at them. In spite of being captain, he would still remain an able-foot soldier.
And what if Ishant Sharma was made captain — he would ask for face-making drills to be made mandatory. As too, longer hair. And use of the unlucky tag to deflect tough questions — “we lost because we were unlucky” being the norm as too, “we won because the opposition was unlucky”.
There are other players too, but they’re not yet ready for captaincy. Not in this post at least. For that, they need to add a little kink to their cricket first.