Behind the calm exterior, though, lies a fierce competitor. The 32-year-old Mumbai batter may not have the in-your-face aggression of a Virat Kohli but his clever tactics and composure in crisis played a big part in the historic series win in Australia.
Rahane, also a black belt in karate, likes putting his players first. “It’s an honour to lead the country. It was not about me but the team. I looked good because everyone contributed. For us it was about having that character on the field, having the fighting spirit, the attitude,” he said.
The son of an engineer and a homemaker took over from Kohli, who left on paternity leave after the first Test when India had been bundled out for 36 in Adelaide. Coach Ravi Shastri acknowledged the stand-in captain’s contributions in India’s resurgence. “Calm and composed Ajinkya, not ruffled by anything, led from the front at MCG with a hundred, which got us back on track and we haven’t looked back since then. So for Ajinkya to take over the way he did was simply unreal,” said Shastri.
His decision to bring in Ravichandran Ashwin in the same Test before a third seamer, during Australia’s first innings, proved to be a game-changing moment. The off-spinner dismissed Australian batting mainstay Steve Smith for a duck and the hosts were all out for 195.
Injuries started plaguing the Indian team right from the start of the series but Rahane went about making optimum use of the available resources. “The message was all about bowling in partnerships, especially this Test. We knew Shardul was playing his second, Siraj his third, Saini his second and Natarjan was playing his first,” said Rahane, who was nicknamed Jinx by Shane Warne. “We all should enjoy this win, not just us but every Indian. What we did here is historic.”
After his victory speech at the presentation ceremony, Rahane presented Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon with a signed shirt from the Indian team, for completing 100 Tests in his career. He then held aloft the Border-Gavaskar trophy before handing it over to rookie Natarajan and slipping into the background.
Rahane’s favourite film is Aamir Khan’s Lagaan. In the film, a ragtag bunch of rustics overcome a British team in a game of cricket. On Tuesday, Rahane’s men pulled off an even more improbable win. Sometimes Real India is more incredible than Reel India.