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Ajinkya Rahane is brave, smart, calm, and he has the respect of his team

His contributions were central in ensuring India didn't crumble in Melbourne like they might well have done

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Rahane's performance gave his team the conviction that victory was attainable  •  Getty Images

Rahane's performance gave his team the conviction that victory was attainable  •  Getty Images

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.
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.
India knew they would be missing the highly valued skills of Virat Kohli following the first Test. Adding to the weight on Rahane's shoulders, they suffered an abysmal collapse in Adelaide. As if that wasn't enough, Rahane was responsible for Kohli's run-out in the first innings in that game, when India were easing into a dominant position.
Despite all those deflating factors, India strode onto the MCG a week later - after Tim Paine had won the toss - as though they were leading 1-0. In part that was because they were aware the Australian opening partnership was in turmoil. They also 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. And finally, there was the captain they greatly respected; they wanted to play well for Rahane.
And boy, didn't they do that. 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 debutants, Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj, made significant contributions as they adjusted quickly to Australian conditions.
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.
A former resident of Mumbai told me his wife lip-read Rahane say the words "Come on, India," when he reached his MCG century. That is another thing that defines Rahane's captaincy: he's all about the team.
At a time when aggressive, proactive international captaincy is in short supply, India are fortunate to have two leaders who both understand the value of taking wickets over containing the opposition.
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.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist