WHEN your ship is hit by a storm, you want a calm man in charge. India were hit by a storm in the first cricket Test at Adelaide, bowled out for 36 in the second innings; Ajinkya Rahane, standing in for Virat Kohli in the second Test in Melbourne, acted with remarkable calmness in steering the team to an emphatic win.
A couple of instances of Rahane’s equanimity in extreme emotions:
He was run out for 112 in the first innings when he responded to Ravindra Jadeja’s call for a quick single. Jadeja, on 49, had been getting a bit antsy in his pursuit of that one run which would have taken him to the nice, round figure of 50 that batsmen and fans cherish; twice before in that over by Nathan Lyon, he seemed keen for that one run, and Rahane said yes on the fifth ball. Jadeja is the faster runner, so the fielder threw the ball to the end to which Rahane was running — the captain was found a few centimetres short of the crease.
Normally, in such circumstances, a captain grunts and fumes and gesticulates; in this instance, Rahane punched Jadeja twice on his chest with the back of his hand — he’s got a black belt in karate, but this was a light punch of encouragement, as if to say, ‘It’s OK, I understand.’ Rahane did understand Jadeja’s need to consolidate his position in the playing XI with a half-century; he did not add negativity to the situation and merely encouraged Jadeja to go on.
The second instance: when Rahane hit the winning runs, he did not jump up and down and scream his heart out. He merely nodded at the umpire, accepted the congratulations from the Australians, hugged his partner Shubman Gill and, without even taking off his helmet, walked off quietly.
His understated responses, in despair and joy, are reminiscent of a very successful former captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Like Dhoni, Rahane has got fire in the belly but exudes serenity, which calms those around him; in the intensely competitive environment of international sport, this is a quality that you can’t buy for a billion dollars.
Rahane’s captaincy was hailed by everyone — for the bowling changes he made, the way he allowed bowlers to set their fields, the way he put into operation the plans that had been made for Australia’s batsmen.
Ravichandran Ashwin heaped praise on the captain with these words: “Getting bowled out for 36 was never going to be easy… but we stuck on really well. Jinks’ calmness in the dressing room really provided us that stability to go out there and express ourselves in this game.”
Ashwin’s wife, Prithi, wrote on Twitter: “I have seen/spoken to Ashwin after every Test he has played and after a lot of wins. But I have never seen him this happy, satisfied and light (can I say?) with a smile in his eyes in almost 10 years.”
It seems that Rahane, radiating calmness, has put the team in a very calm place.
Belying his non-intimidating physicality and demeanour, Rahane played aggressive strokes, displaying an iron will and determination to overcome a top-class Australian bowling attack. In the second innings, after two wickets fell for 19 runs in the chase of the small target of 70, he quickly asserted himself — he pulled the second ball he faced, from the world’s top fast bowler, Pat Cummins, to the boundary, to show that his team would hustle rather than inch towards the target.
A passionate captain makes for an exciting example and can fire up his teammates to greater performances; a cool captain calms the nerves of those around him and, potentially, is in a position to make better thought-out decisions. Rahane has given us another glimpse of the captain of the second kind — with extraordinary success, too.