India vs Australia: Ajinkya Rahane's aggression, deception helped catch visitors off-guard at Dharamsala
Ajinkya Rahane picked the unknown Kuldeep Yadav to replace Kohli as he wanted to go for the kill in the series-decider and the move paid off spectacularly.
Who was the more aggressive captain between Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly? Most people will say, Sourav Ganguly. He gave tough statements in his media briefings. He could sledge even Steve Waugh. Heck, he even took off his shirt at Lord’s. Dravid vs Ganguly is no contest.
Aggression comes in many forms. Ganguly’s in-your-face mannerisms on the field gave him a reputation for being an aggressive, uncompromising captain. Yet, it was Rahul Dravid who often took the more aggressive decisions on the field. His field settings were generally more attacking than Ganguly. He was more proactive (even controversial) with his declarations when he wanted to force a win. There was a period when he forced his team to chase down totals every time he won the toss, irrespective of the pitch conditions. He risked losing games in a bid to teach his team how to chase totals. His team went on to set up the record for most consecutive successful chases in ODIs and India has since gained a reputation for being master of chases. While Ganguly’s aggression was in his demeanour, Dravid’s aggression came from his cricketing decisions.
Ajinkya Rahane has always been the calm Dravid to Kohli’s animated Ganguly whenever he has gotten the chance to captain the side. When he took over the captaincy from Kohli at Dharamsala, his first decision was to find a replacement for the injured Kohli. Replacing India’s best batsman of this season with another batsman would have been the safer option. But Rahane understood the workload of his bowler’s throughout this series and the rest of the season. He wanted to go for the kill in the series decider and picked the unknown Kuldeep Yadav to replace Kohli. The move paid off spectacularly when Kuldeep ran through the Australian middle order on Day 1 to reduce the visitors to 300 in the first innings after they were 144 for 1 at one stage.
The Australian camp, on the other hand, was keen on picking Jackson Bird on a pitch that might have suited him but couldn’t gather the courage to go one batsman short. Rahane was prepared to risk losing in a bid to win the series decider, that’s often the difference in a close contest between two evenly matched team.
After India’s win, Ian Chappell told ESPNCricinfo that “India are very very lucky to have a stand-in captain like Rahane”. Indeed, it was a blessing for India to have a deputy of Rahane’s caliber take over when his captain wasn’t available to do his duties.
Vice-captaincy is an underrated and often thankless role in a cricket team. As a vice captain, you have to act as a glue between the captain and the rest of the team. You need to provide support to your captain, who is often in a lonely place, and also stand up to him and disagree when you think the captain is wrong. You will probably never get the credit for providing a great piece of advice to your captain. Those watching will always feel it was the captain’s call.
If you are too ambitious and eager to take over the captaincy, and if you are just waiting in the wings as the heir apparent, you will never be a good vice captain. Ricky Ponting, in his autobiography, had expressed his disappointment at Michael Clarke for not helping the team enough through a difficult period. Clarke, who has conceded his mistake, was hyped by some as the next Australian captain right after his hundred on debut against India. Even though Clarke didn’t admit to having captaincy ambitions, it would have been hard for him to get involved in the role of a deputy when he had already been heralded as the next leader.
In contrast to Clarke, Adam Gilchrist had conceded in his autobiography that he wasn't a born leader and was relieved when Ponting was picked ahead of him to captain Australia. This reluctance to be full-time captain made Gilchrist a superb vice-captain to Ponting. At times, when he had to lead the team, like in Australia’s 2004-05 tour to India, he did so with distinction as he already had the respect of his side and knew he was doing a filling-in job and will gladly hand back the captaincy irrespective of the result.
Rahane knew this will be a one-off and backed himself and his style. He lifted his team with his aggressive field placements and his own spectacular catching. His positive intent was on display when he came out all guns blazing in the fourth innings after India had lost two early wickets on Day 4. In his post-match press conference, he revealed it was a deliberate attempt to go hard in the fourth innings as his team learned a lesson from the defeat at Galle, where they failed to chase 176 in the final innings.
At Dharamsala, Rahane was a captain-in-charge who was as aware of his team's strengths and weaknesses as his full-time leader. Deception, aggression and game awareness were his allies against a very capable and well prepared Australian unit that was caught off guard.
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