Rahane or Kohli?..India benefit either way

Muscat: The world’s most high profile cricketing responsibility, Indian captaincy, is generating intense debate these days after India conjured up a historic Test series victory against Australia on their own turf. The fact that the epic come-from-behind effort included a win for the ages at the fabled Gabba in Brisbane, an Australian fortress that was not breached since 1988, speaks volumes about the resilience and fortitude of this Indian team.

The Indian team’s Australian summer started in late November 2020, a year which has been defined by the ravage of misery and suffering unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and culminated with Rishabh Pant’s pyrotechnics in the last hour of the last day of the last Test on January 19th. When Ajinkya Rahane took over the leadership from regular captain and batting powerhouse Virat Kohli, who had to fly back home on paternity leave, he had inherited a team that was akin to rubble all around him. India had collapsed to a humiliating 36/9 in the second innings of the first Test in Adelaide after one hour of mayhem on the third day.

The team was without the services of one of its top-notch pacers Ishant Sharma and another, Mohammad Shami, was ruled out of the series with a fracture to his elbow. With arguably the world’s best batsman also leaving the fold, Rahane was left with an unenviable task to resurrect the fortunes of a team that desperately needed some inspiration. INSPIRATIONAL LEADERSHIP Inspiration is a very significant word. One lends inspiration to the team by setting an example and leading from the front. Come the Boxing Day Test at the intimidating cauldron of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Rahane was up to the challenge.

The Mumbai batsman slammed a splendid hundred that came about after dealing with some furious pace and bounce that was unleashed by the fast bowling trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc and the guile and turn of Nathan Lyon.

The 112 Rahane scored set the tone for the MCG Test and his astute captaincy skills including effective bowling changes and field placements put India on course for a stirring victory. The hallmark of Rahane’s captaincy stint has been the calmness he brings to the job that rubs off on his team-mates as well. The Mumbai player has shown great temperament under intense pressure from the Australian bowlers as he marshalled his resources astutely throughout the series. Rahane’s captaincy record has been highly impressive in the few opportunities that he has got. He has captained India in five Tests since 2017 with four victories and a draw.

Three out of those four victories have come against top class Australian teams and another against Afghanistan in Bangalore. The first of those victories was in Dharamsala in 2017 after injury to Kohli saw him leading in the final Test of the series. Melbourne and Brisbane were the second and third victories for Rahane and remember he was leading a beleaguered Indian team at the Gabba. Two debutants in T Natarajan and Washington Sundar and the pace attack completed by Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur showed the level of inexperience India were going in with. But Rahane had no choice but to repose faith in his young lads to deliver.

And they delivered and how! KOHLI’S TEAM This Indian team that is fearless to the tee is an apt reflection of Kohli the batsman and Kohli the captain. With a captaincy win percentage of close to 60 percent that includes 33 wins and 13 draws out of a total of 56 matches, the India No 3 has been very successful all through. The aggressive, in-your-face style of playing and leading that Kohli has embodied over the years has its fair share of admirers and detractors.

India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun recently congratulated Rahane for his magnificent job during the Australia series but stood by Kohli’s captaincy record. “First thing, I would like to congratulate Ajinkya Rahane for the magnificent job he did in Australia. But to the people who are writing against Virat Kohli, I would just like to put up one stat for them. Out of the 20 series that he has captained, he has won 14 series for India. Which means the percentage of win record is over 70%,” Arun told an Indian television network. “If you look at captains across all formats, Virat Kohli’s record has to be one of the best ever.

All Blacks (New Zealand Rugby team) has about an 80 percent success rate, so after them, Virat Kohli’s record is 2nd across all sports. People who tend to write about him have forgotten what he has done over the years. What has Virat not done? The fitness culture he has brought into the team.

Fast bowlers, fielding have all gone up under him,” he added. DIVERGENT TAKES However, former Indian skipper Bishan Singh Bedi has a different take on the debate. “I am floored with the way Rahane conjured magic from broken bodies around him. The way he handled his meagre resources reminds me of Tiger Pataudi, who throughout his captaincy tenure was woefully short of a well-rounded unit but his leadership alone gave Indian cricket fresh legs,” he added. “I’ve observed Rahane pretty closely on this tour.

The hallmark of any captain is his ability to handle the bowling resources. This is where yours truly has become an absolute ‘mureed’ (fan) of Rahane. Three Tests is good enough time to assess a captain’s bowling changes and fielding placements.

I tried hard but I couldn’t find a single Rahane move which could be questioned by armchair critics like me,” Bedi stated in a chat with an Indian media outlet. With the Indian cricketing fraternity having divergent opinions on this much talked about issue, the records and performances of Kohli and Rahane speak for themselves. One can only say Indian cricket will be the beneficiary in the long run with two capable people at the helm of affairs of arguably the best Test team in the world.