In the summer of 1974, India suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2nd Test when they were skittled out for 42 in the 2nd innings, the lowest total by India in Test cricket. The record stood for the better part of 5 decades before it was broken at Adelaide in 2020.
Back then, India then went on to lose the following Test by an innings and 78 runs and the series 0-3. The immediate aftermath was a dark phase in the history of Indian cricket. Wadekar was sacked as captain and he would never play another Test match.
It was inevitable that parallels were drawn with that infamous game after India were bundled out for 36 at Adelaide last week, their lowest ever total in Test cricket. But the more important debate was about what would follow.
Would India capitulate again? Would this be another embarrassing tour where the team suffered a whitewash? Would we restart the debate over the Indian batting unit’s overdependence on Virat Kohli? Or worse still, would questions about Kohli's ability as captain resurface?
And who could blame the fans? India were coming into this game with their confidence shattered. Worse, they were without the services of their premier Test players like Kohli, Ishant, Rohit, Shami, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
India seemed destined for failure, and so too was their stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane. After all, Rahane was grossly out of form and would have been even lower on confidence after the barrage of mean remarks having unceremoniously ran Virat Kohli out in the previous Test.
What's more, Rahane would not have been in the best headspace while coming into this series. Despite being a seasoned campaigner, he didn't make the starting XI of the Delhi Capitals. And even when he got the opportunity, it would be safe to say that he did not do justice to his ability after he scored a meagre 113 runs from 9 innings.
Much like the team he was to captain, Rahane too was slated to fail and go down with his ship when his team would be up against a dominant Australian side in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
And yet, Rahane and the Indian team under his leadership, beat all the odds and emerged triumphant in the face of adversity after they registered their fourth – and probably most significant – victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to level the series 1-1.
It was a win that reflected the true grit of the entire team and more so of the skipper, Ajinkya Rahane, who led right from the front. Rahane's quaint and unassuming gentleman-like character stood out in stark contrast to Kohli's passionate and fiery personality.
While he is no Virat, Rahane presented a strong case for himself. He proved that he is not just an able deputy to Kohli, but also an excellent captain, as he marshalled his troops to one of Indian cricket's most significant victories.
Rahane's hundred was the highlight of India's win
Throughout the Test, the Indians bowled with fantastic discipline. They kept such a tight leash on the Australian batsmen that for the first time in 32 years, no Australian batsman scored a fifty in a Test match in Australia.
The game was studded with individual performances with both bat and ball. Bumrah and Siraj bowled some unplayable deliveries, Shumban Gill played a couple of gritty knocks and Ashwin and Jadeja contributed with their all-round abilities, but the performance that tied them all together was the skipper's magnificent 112 in the first innings.
The innings exemplified Rahane's true class as he held the Indian innings together, unfazed and unrattled by the demons that haunted him. He kept his composure while facing one of the best bowling attacks in Test cricket, an attack that had bundled out his entire team for just 36 in the previous week. He seemed like the only player from either side who knew how to bat on that MCG track.
He was well aided by Ravindra Jadeja in his quest to bury the ghosts of the previous game, not just in his mind, but also in the minds of all the Indian fans. His hundred proved to be not just the perfect remedy to forget the atrocities that took place at Adelaide but also a key ingredient for India's victory in this Test match.
But his job was only half done. India needed not just Rahane the batsman but also Rahane the captain. And he came to the fore, finding a way to get the job done when it mattered the most.
Rahane the captain managed to get everybody involved whilst still always being in-charge. He instilled a sense of calmness and was firmly rooted in the present. He was always looking to capitalise on the elements he had at his disposal rather than looking for what he knew he did not have.
Rahane proved his tactical shrewdness as captain too after he made some bold decisions on the field, one of which was introducing Ravichandran Ashwin early on in the innings that later proved to work wonders for him and the Indian team.
The Mumbaiker demonstrated that he's not only a calm leader but astute one too and displayed a captaincy style that was almost Dhoni-esque.
Ajinkya Rahane did all that was expected off him and more in this Test match. He stepped up and shouldered responsibility with the bat in hand and also rose to the occasion as captain in Virat Kohli's absence.
What's next for Ajinkya Rahane's India?
This game was a baptism by fire. But what's next for him and the Indian team? The upcoming Test could well be held at the MCG as well and that could prove to be a real blessing for the Indian team as it is their favourite hunting ground Down Under.
With series well poised at one-a-piece, expectations are high for this Indian team that bounced back remarkably.
Should India win one of the following games, they will not just retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. It will be the second time in a row that they would have done so in Australian conditions. Rahane's true test is still to come as the Australian team expected to bounce back hard in the next game.Published 29 Dec 2020, 16:01 IST