One, a King with the Bat; other, a flourishing Monsieur. The former likes to decimate bowling attacks with astonishing stroke-play; the latter, gradually pulverises bowling attacks into submission. Virat Kohli, the modern day great, and Ajinkya Rahane, another classy batsman of the modern generation, have two things in common – undefiled technique, and the fact that they both represent India, with a common objective of maintaining India’s top spot in the Test format. The similarity ends here, and more so when you compare the two as Captains. The comparison, though, reeks mischief, more so after a couple of Australians, in a bid to take a jibe at Virat Kohli with whom they are locked in a war of words ever since the ‘brain fade’ controversy where Kohli stopped short of calling Smith a cheat, called Rahane a better Captain than Kohli. In retrospect, a comparison is actually redundant since Kohli is already a veteran, having lead Team India in 26 Tests so far, winning a record-breaking 16 of them (the most by an Indian Captain after as 26 Tests) while Ajinkya Rahane, mostly serving as Kohli’s deputy so far, has captained India in just one Test, the last one against Australia that is, winning it. Since then, mostly because of Australians making uncalled for statements, speculations are rife, but comparisons irrelevant, which is why we take the opportunity to not compare the two, but to spell out how different the two are from each other, and thus, how their respective batting styles reflect their styles of leading a side.
Kohli was appointed as the leader of the pack after MSD’s shock retirement from Test Cricket, when India was in the middle of a Test series down under, trailing by 2-0 after the first two Tests of the four-match series. Kohli quickly came in his elements and aggrandised the Team with his aggressive approach and yielded instant results, drawing the third Test and winning the last one, thus making the scoreline a respectable 2-1. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy was already lost, but Kohli saved India blushes and made sure the old goblins (read 4:0 in 2011) didn’t come back to haunt them. After that, Kohli went from strength to strength with his captaincy, bringing back lost glory. He was in the middle of a dream run before the Australians brought the Indian juggernaut to a screeching halt in Pune, beating India by an ignominious 333 runs. Kohli regathered his act and quickly made it even steven by winning the next one at Bengaluru. The third one was a draw, where Handscomb and Marsh rescued Australia and kept the series on an even keel. Virat Kohli, though, injured his shoulder while trying to save a boundary and was thus ruled out of the fourth and final Test of the series, with the series evenly poised at 1-1. Rahane, who got a taste of Captaincy during the third Test when Kohli sat out during India’s fielding, was then the official stand-in skipper for the fourth Test. It was an important one, though. A lot was at stake; pride, honor and the shimmering Border-Gavaskar trophy. Drawing the Test would save a bit of humiliation, but Australia would still retain the trophy. Losing it would add to the humiliation, and it would mean deplore for millions of fans who desperately wanted India to regain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Rahane had to divert his men from the off-field rancor, and inspire them to perform, when his own bat was going through a lean phase over the last 6 Tests, with an important 51 being his solitary fifty off his last ten innings. It takes guts and a lot of composure to lead your Team when your own Bat fails to talk; and both Kohli and Rahane have done a tremendous job in that regard. Kohli, too, saw a rare failure, scoring just 47 runs in 5 innings. Coming back to Rahane, he led his men diligently; displayed great composure to keep things on track and finally beat the Aussies by gradually building pressure.
Rahane is metaphoric to the Indian Captains from 90s. Build pressure gradually through controlled aggression, frustrate the opponents by not giving them any space, and attack when the opponent’s chips are down. Whereas Kohli is the modern-day Cricketer, growing up in the age of social media, brash, arrogant, loud, yet immensely successful. Contrary to Rahane’s composed approach, Kohli wears aggression up his sleeves and likes to talk to his opponents a lot; loves to deride them. He gets the crowds involved and keeps talking to his Team-mates and maintains high levels of intensity. With Kohli at the helm, the cricket field transmogrifies into a battlefield of sorts, loud, volume ratcheting up more and more by the minute. With Rahane, it is the complete opposite. The field resembles a courtroom where Rahane, with written statements and arguments, slowly builds his case before suddenly catching the perpetrator off-guard, and thus ends up winning his case. In both cases, though, the result is the same. Kohli is a lot more upfront, like his stroke-play, and the same goes for Rahane, his Captaincy is as quietly meted out as his stroke-play. To put things into perspective, let’s talk about the two moments from the second and fourth Test. With Australia set 188 to win, Warner and Renshaw got off to a steady start, adding 22 for the first wicket. Meanwhile, Kohli intensified the situation, kept shouting, purposefully involved himself into banter and finally got India a breakthrough. During the fourth Test, Rahane’s controlled aggression frustrated Smith and Co. so much that when India was put into bat for the final six overs of the day, needing 106 to win, Rahul scored 12 off the first over. In the third over, a ball hit Vijay’s leg and there was a half-hearted appeal from the bowler. You could clearly see the ball was going down the leg. Yet, Smith and Co. went for a review, in spite of having an idea about where the ball would head – Australia’s desperation for a wicket was apparent, such was the impact of Rahane’s controlled aggression.
In retrospect, Kohli has been, as I said, a veteran of 26 Tests, whereas Rahane captained for the first time. Yet, there so much difference in the way the two lead that I couldn’t stop myself from spelling out the differences. To put it in simple words, Rahane’s and Kohli’s captaincy is exactly like the way they bat!