How Kohli and Rahane differed as captains

Umesh Yadav is congratulated by Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli Associated Press

By all accounts Virat Kohli is going to miss the early games of the IPL with his shoulder problem. Based on the sour note with which he ended a tremendous Test series victory for India over a fighting Australia, that may well be a good thing. At the end of this long and successful home season, I get the distinct impression that Kohli needs some time to think about how he goes about things as a batsman and a captain.

Kohli saying that he no longer had any friends among the Australian team after the conclusion of the series took a lot of gloss off the contest, and once again suggested that the touring side had got as close as they did to India by underhanded means. This is not an assertion backed up by evidence and sets a poor example to all those watching the game, not only in India but around the world.

Test matches should be hard contests, with neither side giving an inch, but at series' end the two sides should be getting together to reflect and learn from each other. They did not do this in Dharamsala, despite an attempt on the part of Steven Smith, and that was disappointing to hear. The game is bigger than any individual duel, however emotive it has been.

Time away from playing might help Kohli to reach a fairer viewpoint on what has transpired over the past six weeks: a terrific battle in which the Australians genuinely challenged India, and gave Kohli the toughest time of his international career to date.

At the outset of the series, Australia made no secret of the fact they intended to target India's captain, and they did so successfully with some disciplined bowling and concerted pressure in the field. They made life uncomfortable for Kohli in the middle, and for a rare time in Test matches he was unable to adequately respond, unsure whether to attack, as he tried in the first innings in Pune and Ranchi, or defend, as in Bengaluru.

"Australia will now know exactly how much stamina, both physical and mental, is required to take out a series against the world's No. 1 team"

In response to the Pune defeat, Kohli clearly roused his men to be more outwardly combative on the field, resulting in a victory in pretty hot-tempered circumstances in the second Test. But as Kohli's runs dried up, he seemed almost to be compensating by getting more confrontational with his words and gestures, whether theatrically applauding the loss of an Australian review in Ranchi or responding angrily to Glenn Maxwell's shoulder gesture earlier in the same game. (Smith was wrongly accused of making a similar gesture.)

When Kohli ruled himself out of the decider in Dharamsala, it was seen as an advantage for Australia, in much the same way as the pitch and conditions at the foot of the Himalayas were seen as ideal for the touring team's fast bowlers to exploit. But it was here that we saw a fascinating contrast in how India operated without Kohli in the middle, turning a couple of apparent weaknesses into the strengths that sealed the series.

Ajinkya Rahane, the stand-in captain, is as different from Kohli in his demeanour on the field as it is possible to be. He does not give the impression of looking for a fight so much as looking for groceries in the supermarket, but his second-innings batting against Pat Cummins showed that a bold heart beats beneath the quieter exterior. Similarly, the way he was able to work with the Indian fast bowlers, particularly Umesh Yadav, showed good sense and strong character.

Any Test series as good as this one will have numerous turning points, and at times I was reminded of our 2014 matches in South Africa, where it seemed the story would twist wildly in virtually every session. That can create a corrosive effect in the dressing room over time, as anxiety builds up and it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in the moment and play your best cricket.

It would have been easy for India's fast bowlers to start with a handful of loose overs when defending a first-innings lead of just 32, handing priceless momentum to Australia's opening batsmen in the process. David Warner, who did not have a great series, is an expert at driving a third innings to rapidly build a lead. But within a few balls of getting to the batting crease, Warner and Matt Renshaw were hopping around in the fight of their lives, and neither lasted long against bowling that was as accurate as it was bruising.

Either side of their dismissals, Smith also fell while attempting to respond to India's well-directed aggression, a sign that the Australians had begun to fray mentally after concentrating so hard for so long. Having got so close, the tourists will be better for the experience, and will now know exactly how much stamina, both physical and mental, is required to take out a series against the world's No. 1 team. Australia's catching let them down at a few critical times over the series, another reminder that they are not yet as hardened as they need to be.

Those wickets all fell with Australia still in deficit, and all but decided the course of the entire series. It was a passage that said a lot about Umesh as a fast bowler, but also about Rahane as a leader: he showed toughness of mind to recognise the key moment and seize it. There is no question at all about Kohli remaining captain, but the contrast between his tough talk and the tough actions of Rahane and Umesh should at least give him cause for thinking about how he will lead India next time around.