'...the one that turned the match firmly in India's favour was the Johnny Mullagh medal-winning contribution from Rahane. The captain's century came at a time when India could easily have faded to a two-nil deficit, and it was this performance that gave his team the conviction that victory was attainable.'
Ajinkya Rahane is brave, smart, and born to lead cricket teams, former Australia captain Ian Chappell has heaped praises on India's stand-in skipper.
India secured a clinical eight-wicket win over Australia in the Boxing Day Test.
With no Virat Kohli, no Rohit Sharma, no Ishant Sharma, no Mohammad Shami, and the humiliation of getting bundled out for 36 at the Adelaide Oval, India scripted a brilliant turnaround to level the series.
"It was no surprise that Ajinkya Rahane captained India flawlessly at the MCG. Anyone who saw him in charge in Dharamsala in 2017 would have recognised a man born to lead cricket teams.
“There were a lot of similarities between that 2017 match and the one at the MCG. Firstly, it was between the same two highly competitive rivals, then there was the valuable first-innings lower-order contribution from Ravindra Jadeja, and finally Rahane aggressively accumulating the required runs in a nervy pursuit of a moderate victory total," Chappell wrote in his column on ESPN Cricinfo.
"The moment that caught my attention in the Dharamsala match was the time Rahane called on debutant left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav when David Warner and Steve Smith were involved in a century partnership. 'This is a brave move,' I thought, and it turned out to be a very smart one. Yadav quickly claimed the wicket of Warner -- expertly caught by Rahane at first slip -- and this prompted a five-wicket slide. That's part of Rahane's success as a skipper -- he's brave and smart. However, there's much more to his leadership than just those two important qualities. He is calm when things could easily get out of hand. He has earned the respect of his team-mates, one of the most important aspects of good captaincy. And he gets runs when they are needed, which adds to the respect his team has for him," he added.
Chappell said India knew that one man couldn't replicate the "supreme deeds" of Kohli and it was going to take an extra effort from all concerned to overcome his absence.
"There was Jasprit Bumrah, excelling as usual at the MCG, ambushing batsmen regularly. R Ashwin, with his new-found confidence in Australian conditions, exerted his influence over Smith, a vital early wicket that further boosted India's confidence. Inspired by the seniors, the debutantes, Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj, made significant contributions as they adjusted quickly to Australian conditions," he said.
"Despite those valuable performances, the one that turned the match firmly in India's favour was the Johnny Mullagh medal-winning contribution from Rahane. The captain's century came at a time when India could easily have faded to a two-nil deficit, and it was this performance that gave his team the conviction that victory was attainable," Chappell added.
However, Chappell said this "tantalising series" is far from over but feels India have fewer selection headaches than Australia.
"This tantalising series is far from over. India still have concerns with yet another fast-bowling injury and an opening batsman in a quandary. However, despite coming off a disastrous collapse in Adelaide, along with the departure of their best batsman and the loss of two leading fast bowlers, India have fewer selection headaches than Australia. It's helpful that they have a strong, calm leader and a vibrant spirit that has built up under the Kohli-Rahane-Ravi Shastri coalition. If India do go on to repeat their last tour's success in Australia, the Mullagh medal won't be the only gong Rahane receives," Chappell concluded.