Ajinkya Rahane has credited the collective leadership that he shared with vice-captain Rohit Sharma and senior players Cheteshwar Pujara and R Ashwin for India being able to come back from behind in the absence of regular captain Virat Kohli and take the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 2-1 series win in Australia. All four players, Rahane says, took greater responsibility upon themselves to instill belief and confidence in an inexperienced India team.
Rahane took over the captaincy when Kohli went home on paternity leave following India’s defeat in the first Test in Adelaide, where they were bowled out for 36 in the second innings. Rahane’s first message to the dressing room was clear: the Adelaide defeat was a closed chapter.
“I told them that topic should not be discussed at all,” Rahane told Sakal, a leading Marathi daily. “The fact that we got all out for 36 is not any mistake. We should just accept it and move on. No point going in depth and thinking about it because the [next Test] match was immediately starting in three days. My only message was: it happened in one hour. They [Australia] played good cricket. Such things happen once in a century. The faster we accept this happened and move on, that is good for us.”
Rahane also told his players that it made no difference to him if people outside were writing India off, and that it shouldn’t bother the other players either, going into the second Test in Melbourne. “It is a good opportunity for us to stay and play as one. Whatever the result, especially after the Melbourne Test or at the end of the Test series, does not matter. Outcome is the last thing. What I wanted was we should come together and play as one, that was my priority.”
Sharma, who played the last two Tests, Pujara and Ashwin were Rahane’s three key sounding boards. All four players are close friends on and off the field having begun their international careers at roughly the same time. Their closeness allowed them to talk openly and help each other.
How Rahane gave confidence to Ashwin and Pujara
While Kohli brings the team together with his intensity and energy, Rahane prefers doing it with a quiet word shared with his team-mates. In the Indians’ first warm-up match against Australia A, Ashwin made 8 and 5. According to Rahane, the bowling allrounder was worried about his batting – he had come into the tour with just two 30-plus scores in his last 19 Test innings.
“Our discussion started from the [first] practice match itself,” Rahane said. “Ashwin got out early and was sitting alone. I told Ashwin, please do not take tension about your batting. There are times when you think too much about your batting. His record as a batsman is pretty good. When things are not going well, obviously you start brooding about your batting not going well. I told him, you just focus on your bowling.
“With your bowling you can win us matches. He bowled well and I feel that reflected in his batting [later in the series]. My responsibility was to get his focus on his bowling. He bowled well and that confidence showed in his batting.”
Rahane said he explained to Ashwin that the more “desperate” he was to do well with the bat, the more disappointed he would get if he failed. “Desperation does not work. I told him to play 40-50 balls while batting without thinking about it. And that is what happened. I did not say much to him. All credit should go to Ashwin. I told him, too: your bowling is going so good and consequently, mentally, you are very relaxed and that is why you are batting well [now]. And where we wanted him, he did perform [with the bat] in Sydney.”
Batting with a bad back, Ashwin helped India save the Sydney Test with an unbeaten 39 off 128 balls.
Pujara was another key match-winner who received a quiet word of support from Rahane when voices in the media including former players and captains were questioning his scoring rate. Pujara faced 928 balls across the series, wearing Australia’s bowlers down cumulatively, and his final-day half-centuries proved crucial to India saving the Sydney Test and winning in Brisbane.
“I told Pujara, you play your game,” Rahane said. “You don’t change your game bilkul (at all). Others will play around you.”
‘Take responsibility but enjoy it without pressure’
As a captain Rahane is yet to lose a Test match. He is a calm character at most times, and during the Australia series he made sure to remind himself to continue enjoying the game when he took over the captaincy, and not let himself get bogged down by the pressure of the responsibility. “I told them we are two or three seniors in the team. That does not mean we have to take the pressure. Let’s enjoy our cricket, enjoy our batting. And then we will take the others along with us. Many times what happens is when you say there is responsibility then you put pressure on yourself. In my mind I knew we had to take the responsibility: but enjoy it while you take it, not with pressure.”
That joy and freedom is what Rahane said enabled him to bat himself into a “zone” during his 112 in India’s first innings in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, which allowed the visitors to take vital lead and eventually win the Test. “That innings in Melbourne I was enjoying as a batsman. I was enjoying the pressure situation. I have walked in to bat many times in the past when India were 20 for 3 or 40 for 3, but the situation in Melbourne was totally different. I told myself while batting: “chal (go on), you enjoy every ball. Enjoy each situation. Enjoy every run. What has to happen will happen.” Because of that I went into the zone while batting.”
According to Rahane, by the time India entered 2021 with the series level, he felt more confident also because he found support from his deputy, Sharma, who had missed the first two Tests while completing rehab on a hamstring injury picked up during the IPL. Having been team-mates since the age-group days in Mumbai cricket, Rahane and Sharma had complete trust in each other. Rahane admitted that Sharma played a big hand in sharing leadership duties. “The big advantage is Rohit’s experience. My job became easier, since if I could not pay attention to every player, I would ask Rohit to deal with that.
“Having played together so much cricket, if we felt any of the players in the Indian dressing room was down, we thought how we could make that person stand up and perform. Hence we could easily discuss such things.”
‘We talk about cricketing gods – it is there somewhere’
Over the course of the series, India lost a number of key players to injury. By the time India landed in Brisbane, their options had dwindled to nearly zero, and they eventually picked a five-man bowling attack whose most experienced member was playing his third Test match. After the series victory, Ravi Shastri, India’s had coach, had praised Rahane for remaining calm while handling such an inexperienced line-up. How did he do it?
“I felt that there is an opportunity somewhere in all this,” Rahane said. “As a player we always aspire to play for the country. So I told them that you cannot get any bigger opportunity than this. If we do good here as a team, what will happen in the future we cannot even imagine. All those who got the opportunity, all of them did well. And, importantly, they did well because there was no pressure on them. They could play freely.
“As a captain I was feeling bad that some players had missed out [due to injury], but I also thought whoever comes in, it was a big opportunity for them. Whatever the resources were available, how we could give them confidence and make them help the team do well was my main aim. Again, the result was not the motive: win or loss was not in my mind. The only thing in my mind was play good cricket and give them [Australia] a fight on the ground. Because of that only the result has come. There is some supreme power somewhere. We gave respect to cricket. We talk about cricketing gods – it is there somewhere. It was surreal and a fairytale ending.”
The Hundred 2021 – India Women players could be involved after Australians sign on
ECB ‘hopeful’ about Indian involvement but awaiting BCCI approval
Ten Australia Women internationals have confirmed their availability for the inaugural season of the Hundred, with the ECB “hopeful” that they will be joined in the competition by a handful of India players.
Nineteen of the 24 overseas slots in the women’s Hundred have now been filled, after eight new players were announced on Tuesday: Alyssa Healy, Nicola Carey (Northern Superchargers), Beth Mooney, Meg Lanning, Jess Jonassen (Welsh Fire), Sophie Molineux, Annabel Sutherland (Trent Rockets), and Rachael Haynes (Oval Invincibles).
Eleven Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa players had previously been confirmed: Elyse Villani (Trent Rockets), Sophie Devine, Ashleigh Gardner (Birmingham Phoenix), Deandra Dottin, Chloe Tryon (London Spirit), Mignon du Preez, Lizelle Lee (Manchester Originals), Dane van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp (Oval Invincibles), Amelia Kerr and Stafanie Taylor (Southern Brave).
While recruitment for the men’s Hundred involved a retention stage and a player draft, the women’s competition is running on an open-market system, with players and teams allowed to negotiate contracts directly.
The ECB remains optimistic that some Indian players will be involved in the competition. While the BCCI does not grant No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) for active men’s players to appear in overseas leagues, India’s leading female players have previously appeared in the Kia Super League (KSL) – which has now been discontinued to make way for the Hundred – and the Women’s Big Bash League.
ESPNcricinfo understands that Indian players are keen to be involved in the competition, but that they are waiting on approval from the BCCI. Four India internationals – Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma – were involved in the KSL between 2017 and 2019.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the ECB has been in discussions with the BCCI about the prospect, and a spokesperson said they were “hopeful” of Indian involvement.
Charlotte Edwards, Southern Brave’s head coach, told Sky’s Cricket Show: “I think there are conversations happening. Clearly, they’re players we want in this competition. We’ve got most of the top Australian players, so I think the next step is to get the Indian players over the line. That’s exciting for the competition, so hopefully that will happen.”
Beth Barrett-Wild, the head of the women’s Hundred, told ESPNcricinfo that the ECB was confident the “best players in the world” would feature.
“Obviously there’s a level of uncertainty with the Covid situation, but we’ve got a brilliant team hooked into government who are making sure we’re on top of what’s happening,” she said. “It’s really difficult to know where we’ll be in July but those overseas players have all signed their contracts, so fingers crossed they will be over here in the summer.
“It shows that these players want to play in the Hundred and see it as a big opportunity, both from a playing perspective and in terms of their personal visibility. We talk about world-class quality and the Hundred being a world-class competition, and I can categorically say that we’ve got the best players in the world coming.”
Teams have also confirmed the signings of several English players. Deals for Sophie Ecclestone (Manchester Originals), Bryony Smith (Welsh Fire), Alice Davidson-Richards (Northern Superchargers), Sarah Glenn (Trent Rockets), Sophia Dunkley (Southern Brave), Mady Villiers (Oval Invincibles), Georgia Elwiss (Birmingham Phoenix) and Tammy Beaumont (London Spirit) were all announced on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Annesha Ghosh
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98
India women’s team to play South Africa women in Lucknow
This will be the first international cricket India women will play since the T20 World Cup final a year ago
The India women’s team are set to play their first game in a year since the Women’s T20 World Cup final on March 8, 2020. They will face South Africa women in a series of five ODIs and three T20Is in Lucknow, beginning on March 7.
The series was originally supposed to be held in Thiruvananthapuram, but the Kerala Cricket Association informed the BCCI about its inability to host the games as the ground has been “made available to the Indian military for a recruitment drive, without the KCA’s prior knowledge”, and it doesn’t have a venue with “appropriate broadcast facilities”.
The Karnataka Cricket Association was touted to then host the games in Bengaluru, but the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association confirmed in a press release on Tuesday that all eight games would take place at the Ekana Stadium in Lucknow.
India’s and South Africa’s squads for the ODIs and T20Is haven’t been announced yet.
Both the teams will arrive in the city on Thursday (February 25), and are expected to go into a bio-secure bubble. The five ODIs will take place first, on March 7, 9, 12, 14 and 17. Both sides will undergo three Covid-19 tests before the series, and two additional ones thereafter. The fourth round of testing is scheduled for March 10 after the second ODI, while the final round will take place on March 16, the eve of the final ODI.
The three T20Is will then be held on March 20, 21 and 24.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the Indian players have been told by the management to do their first round of Covid-19 testing.
The only competitive cricket that the Indian players took part in during this period was the Women’s T20 Challenge held in the final week of IPL 2020, in Sharjah in November 2020. In the past year, a tour of England scheduled in July 2020 was cancelled, while a tour of Australia scheduled for January 2021 was deferred.
Ban vs SL – Mustafizur Rahman to prioritise Tests over IPL if selected
“If I am not selected, I will take BCB’s advice,” says pacer who was picked up by Rajasthan Royals in the 2021 auction
Mustafizur Rahman has said that he will be available for Bangladesh’s two-match Test series against Sri Lanka in April, if selected. Rahman had been picked up by the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL 2021 auction for his base price of INR 1 crore, and the tournament is expected to clash with the Sri Lanka series.
Both Tests that the two teams are scheduled to play are part of the World Test Championship, and they will also play an ODI Super League series in May.
With the Bangladesh Cricket Board having allowed Shakib Al Hasan to miss the Tests against Sri Lanka after he had requested to be allowed to do so, there was speculation about whether Rahman, too, would follow suit. However, Rahman said he was putting his Bangladesh commitments ahead of his IPL ones.
“Country comes first for me. I will play Tests if the team management selects me,” Rahman told reporters on Tuesday, shortly before Bangladesh were to depart for New Zealand for a white-ball tour.
“If I am not selected, I will take BCB’s advice. I spoke to the BCB president, who has left the decision to me. If they let me play the IPL I will, otherwise I am choosing to play for the country.”
Shakib’s decision also led to the BCB saying they would add clauses in central contracts where players would have to specify their availability.
Rahman was part of the XI for the first Test of Bangladesh’s recent series against West Indies and not the second. He has played only 14 Tests in all since making his debut in mid-2015 – less than half of the 30 Tests Bangladesh have played in the same period. Consequently, his selection for the Test squad is not a given, unlike Shakib’s.
However, the BCB hadn’t given Rahman an NOC for last year’s IPL. Two years before that, he was reprimanded by the board for not reporting an injury he picked up in IPL 2018, while playing for Mumbai Indians.
“There’s no pressure to play in the IPL or for Bangladesh,” Rahman said. “It is not new for me. I have forgone IPL in the past to play for the country. I am thinking along similar lines this time too.”.
In his last IPL stint, Rahman played for Mumbai in 2018, taking seven wickets in seven matches at an average of 32.85 and an economy rate of 8.36. He had much more success with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the previous two seasons, although he featured in just one game in 2017. In 17 matches for Sunrisers overall, he collected 17 wickets at 26.16 and an economy rate of 7.14 – his figures somewhat spoiled by his solitary outing in 2017 in which he bowled 2.4 overs for 34 runs without picking up a wicket.
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