Bishen Singh Bedi on why Ajinkya Rahane reminds him of Tiger Pataudi

I must confess I am still in a state of inebriation after the Indian flag fluttered on Tuesday evening at the Gabba. I did in fact tell my wife, that it was all so orgasmic!

A place far away from home, an intimidatory arena, and an Australian fortress now feels so desi, so Indian, a future tourist attraction where cricket-loving Indians from all over the world will take their kids and say, “Look, feel, savour, here is where our cricket team swaggered with their broken bodies and unearthed that intangible quality of character and earned respect.”

My Twitter handle exploded as I struggled to come to terms with the awesomeness of it all. The media went to town trying their best to describe the Brisbane goosebumps. Social media, however, was miles ahead, devouring every bit of each and every player’s family members, who understandably thoroughly enjoyed their reflected sunshine.

However, I didn’t understand one particular aspect in this celebration. I don’t quite get the need to overemphasise the modest back stories of players. Someone being a rickshaw driver’s son has nothing to do with his cricket: On a sporting field all are equals. Those adjectives, intended praise perhaps, seem like slurs. If youngsters are competing on equal terms then where’s the need to indulge in pity of any sort? I get that the people want to highlight the hardships involved in the journey to the Indian team for inspiration. But the way it plays out on social media and WhatsApp forwards, it’s stripped off those nuances and comes across as insensitive.

Another of my peeve is the hyping tag of “the greatest win ever”. It reduces some of the truly great memories of the past as mere footnote-moments. I have tried to get to the bottom of this phenomenon and have concluded that Mother Nature doesn’t allow us to keep our memory bank bursting with a distant past. Only recent memories stay alive and kicking. They call it recency bias. And a momentous event like the Gabba glory turns into instant gratification — the need to glorify the present ends up in erasure of the past. The past recedes into a distance, almost out of realms of reality; this is purely a psychological ploy to process the present.

The context of the pandemic, which became the backdrop of this great achievement, also has added further layers. In India, we have had to cope with man-made disasters also. So, this cricket series was played in an environment of doom and gloom. Ajinkya Rahane & Co. have worked wonders to bring smiles to our drab faces. For that we can’t be grateful enough, appreciative enough.

Personally, I am floored with the way Rahane conjured magic from broken bodies around him. The way he handled his meagre resources reminds me of Tiger Pataudi, who throughout his captaincy tenure was woefully short of a well-rounded unit but his leadership alone gave Indian cricket fresh legs. It was Pataudi who defined an “Indianness” in our cricket. He infused in us a thrilling sense of being together in this ride.

Tiger never flaunted his regal heritage and got into his groove fairly soon to leave a stamp of utter selflessness and humility — the soul of leadership.

Mind you, when Tiger was thrown at the deep end, his biggest qualification was his royal upbringing, the very thing that could have jeopardised his and our chances. The country had chosen democracy, reducing the kings and queens to mythology, to children’s games. Tiger never flaunted his regal heritage and got into his groove fairly soon to leave a stamp of utter selflessness and humility — the soul of leadership. I find all these qualities in Rahane and he is a seasoned campaigner unlike Patuadi, who had to find his way in the captaincy maze.

I’ve observed Rahane pretty closely on this tour. The hallmark of any captain is his ability to handle the bowling resources. This is where yours truly has become an absolute “mureed” of Rahane. Three Tests is good enough time to assess a captain’s bowling changes and fielding placements. I tried hard but I couldn’t find a single Rahane move which could be questioned by armchair critics like me.

Let me keep my views away from the context for a while and lend an ear to Chappelli (Ian Chappell), someone not in a habit to be appreciative of foreign captains on Australian soil. Actually, most of the Australian media is pretty notorious when it comes to truly complimenting the leaders of the visiting teams. However, Rahane came in for raving praise from Chappelli and all and sundry in print as well as electronic media.

For me personally, it was more important that the Indian bowlers thrived under Rahane’s quiet but watchful eyes. Ravichandran Ashwin is not easily satisfied with himself or even with the man at the helm. But it was heartening to see him at peace with himself and also the captain. You could see him all-involved in the final Test even when he wasn’t in the playing XI. The obvious sign of a disgruntled dressing room are sulking faces of those carrying drinks.

Even to a critical eye, it was pleasing to see a captain who was unperturbed, unruffled and least demonstrative. What sealed my vote for him was his gesture at the end of the Test. Watching him hand over the glittering Border-Gavaskar Trophy to T Natarajan, a rookie on his first away tour, would have had the cricketing Gods looking down at him with kind eyes. This for me was pure and simple leadership at its honest best.

The great Richie Benaud famously said, “Captaincy is 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill. But don’t try it without that 10 per cent.” Rahane has both, though with a minor change in proportion. He has 50 per cent luck and 50 per cent skill.

I hope I’m not giving the impression of bending my back to build a case for Rahane to take over as Test captain. If anything my sincere aim is to prolong Virat Kohli’s batting career for the country. Shared responsibilities in cricket are different from corporate/political fields whence individuals are almost vying for cut-throat glory. In sports, especially cricket, captains can be seen swimming or sinking with the teams they lead.

Another ticklish thought pops up in my mind: Does India need Virat Kohli the great batsman or Virat Kohli a mediocre captain in the long run? Providence has provided us with an instant option. Rahane can lead in Tests while Kohli and Rohit Sharma can share the duties in white-ball cricket. I am certain none of the selectors would want to own up this responsibility. Maybe Kohli can offer to make an honourable way for Rahane to take over during the series against England at home. I can assure no bad blood would be caused when we ensure that the larger picture on the canvas is Indian cricket.

Postscript: Not for a moment am I suggesting that given an opportunity to lead Indian Test side, Rahane will not commit a blunder. Far from it. Having played this game long enough I can safely confide that cricket has a great knack of bringing down a haughty head with a thud. Chances of Rahane meeting with that fate are slender — because he doesn’t seem to possess a haughty head, not yet anyway.

The writer captained the Indian cricket team in the 1970s

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