Dilip Vengsarkar, former India captain
A cricket tour of Australia has always been a tough ask for any international side simply because of the wickets, the big grounds and a tough opposition with a never-say-die attitude, and which gives more than 100% on the ground, and most importantly takes immense pride in playing Test match cricket for Australia. As India is one of the top teams in world cricket, each and every player in the Australian team likes to perform to the best of his ability against them.
When Ajinkya Rahane took over the captaincy, the Indian team was in dire straits, having been bowled out just for 36 and losing the first Test at Adelaide in just two and a half days. Let me tell you, not many would have volunteered to lead the team at that juncture. However, since he was already appointed to lead the side in Virat Kohli’s absence due to paternity leave, Ajinkya took the bull by its horns and scored an outstanding century in the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). That really helped him to call the shots and lead the side from the front. It is so very important for the captain to be amongst the runs. Later, the way he led the boys through the crisis was exemplary. His calmness had a soothing effect on the team.
As a captain, some of his tactics stood out. The way he used Ravichandran Ashwin before lunch on Day One at the MCG was laudable. He gave Ashwin, our No 1 spinner in all conditions, the freedom to bowl the way he wanted to, but also kept the control in his hands. It allowed Ashwin to exploit the moisture in the track, and he was unstoppable after that. On the batting front, his decision to promote wicketkeeper batsman Rishabh Pant ahead of Hanuma Vihari was a masterstroke. Pant’s arrival gave the team the impetus that it needed while chasing the 407-run target.
Every captain has a different style of leading the team. It’s important that the captain stays calm in a crisis, when a catch is dropped, a misfield happens, or when the bowlers or batsmen are failing on the field. I see that quality in Ajinkya.
What was important for India on this tour was the fact that so many youngsters made a successful debut on this tour. The fact that this happened under his captaincy should be applauded. I always believe that youngsters bring in positive energy in a side as they are hungry for success which is quite infectious and that shows on the ground.
Ajinkya has played a few important innings in the past. Remember the fourth innings chase against Australia at Dharamshala (the Test he captained), where he began attacking the bowlers after arriving at the crease right away, helping India achieve a short but tricky target! His hundred at the Lord’s on a green top too was a fine innings.
At the highest level, one has to be consistent to be rated amongst the top players, but in the last couple of years or so, may be due to his inconsistency with the bat he seems to have underperformed, which didn’t help him retaining his place in the team. However, when in form, he is our best batsman along with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in Tests. Without a doubt, Virat and Rohit are among the world’s best at present.
I strongly feel that Ajinkya should have been our No 4 batsman in the ODI World Cup in 2019. Had that been the case, we probably wouldn’t have lost the semi-final at Old Trafford to New Zealand in overcast conditions. After our top three were gone, we didn’t have anybody to counter the conditions and stay at the wicket to see us through. But then, those are the ifs and buts of the game, and they have no place in cricket.
Ajinkya has been around the international circuit for along time now and is one of the senior players . What matters to me is that Ajinkya batted very well, but more importantly led the team very bravely especially at a time when half of the team was not available for selection before the last Test match.
(As told to Gaurav Gupta)
‘THIS TEAM HAS BEEN GROOMED UNDER VIRAT. IT’S UNFAIR TO DEBATE HIS PLACE’
Deep Dasgupta, former India wicketkeeper
It’s been wonderful the way the Indian team has played, and the grit and the fight they have shown in Australia. There is a time when you need leaders to stand up. That’s what happened. Rahane, Pujara, Ashwin, Bumrah and Jadeja stood up. But to say that Virat Kohli should be replaced, I think that’s taking it too far. This is the same guy who won you the first ever series in Australia two years ago.
This team under Virat has been No. 1 in Tests for a while. They achieved it in Indore in 2016. I understand the England tour and the New Zealand series didn’t go our way. But to talk about replacing him after three Test matches without him is like saying ‘Ok, I have played with my toy and I now want to try out a new one.’
It is so unfair that this debate is happening while he is away on paternity leave. I can understand if he was there. It’s like you are talking about him behind his back. If he had been there, failed as a batsman and India lost under him, then one may talk about his place. But Virat Kohli is not even there. Let’s not assume that had he been there this turnaround wouldn’t have happened.
It’s not that India would not have been 36 all out in Adelaide had Rahane been the captain. As a leader, one has to take the responsibility. But you can’t blame the captain for the team getting out for 36.
Make no mistake; this is a team that has been groomed by Virat from 2015. I am not saying that he is the best captain I have ever seen. But it’s Kohli who has encouraged this pool of fast bowlers. Everyone knows that for a team to dominate international cricket, you need a strong bowling attack which can take 20 wickets on any surface. He has presided over a phase in Indian cricket that has seen fast bowlers going up on the priority list.
I don’t understand the whole debate right now when there’s a World Test Championship on and there’s a home series against England in a month. With a place in the Test championship final on the line, you can’t be questioning the captain and a performing captain. Even in South Africa 2018, we lost because we couldn’t chase around 200 in the two Test matches. It’s more or less the same batting core.
The other point is this whole ‘giving-it-all’ attitude in the team. Kohli has never been afraid of losing. This is the approach that has stayed with the side. One thing you can never doubt in a Kohli-led side is the intensity.
It doesn’t matter if the team is 300 for no loss or has dismissed the opponent for a low total, the intensity level is right up there.
If you look at his batting numbers as a captain, he has gone up multiple notches as a batsman after becoming the captain. His first Test as captain in Adelaide 2014 showed the attitude he brings to this team. Maybe captaincy helps him in performing.
As a batsman, he has always led from the front. On the 2018 England tour, not many people contributed but he was there. His numbers as a captain are right up there.
You may argue that he has been chopping and changing a lot. But you have to look at the number of people who have got opportunities. You got somebody like Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw getting opportunities. He brought back Rohit Sharma in the Test side. Rohit had actually become a white ball specialist. Kohli made a place for him at the top of the order. Gautam Gambhir too had got an opportunity to come back in 2016.
He is not afraid of giving people chances. Even in the 2018 South Africa series, he blooded in Jasprit Bumrah. Bumrah was never the first choice but he went with Bumrah.
Things will change with these three Test matches. The leaders in the team will be louder and more expressive. I expect Virat to tweak his style and adapt to certain ways that have been used in the last three Tests in Australia. It could be anything—giving people greater roles and voice in the side. He can use Rahane better. He hasn’t done anything wrong that commands a change but I would like him to embrace what Rahane has brought to the side as a leader. I would like to see a Virat 2.0 now!
(As told to Arani Basu)