Captaincy decoded: The saga of Rahane and Kohli
Empathy is underrated and inadequate as a result. Surely, the world we reside in could use more of it, but for the sake of this article, let us pivot on the impact of emotional quotient in sport in general, cricket in particular.
In the lexicon of cricket, empathy seldom finds a mention, and yet, some of the finest cricketing minds swear by its efficacy (read as need), especially as a tool among leaders of men.
Mike Brearley, the former England skipper viewed as one of the greatest captains, alludes to emotional quotient often in the 'The Art Of Captaincy', but the inability of subsequent generations to assimilate the vein in which the 1985-classic was scripted is as tragic as it is expected.
While Ajinkya Rahane may not have dipped his toes in Brearley's world of captaincy in text, he comes innately equipped with requisite qualities a captain must possess to find success amongst peers. '.it's not about winning and losing, it's about getting the best out of the team you have,' Brearley had said.
If Rahane's record as captain is considered, it's evident that his ability to extract every ounce of performance from his fellow athletes - no matter the situation - has put him on the winning side of things more often than not.
'Captaincy isn't only about setting fields, making bowling changes and writing out team combinations,' Rudi Webster tells DH over the phone from Barbados. '. a leader is one who can find a way to motivate every member of the team, someone who can find the best way to bring out the best in every component that goes into being a team.'
Five Tests, four wins and a draw. it's too small a sample size to build a case, but in the aftermath of the unlikely win in Melbourne and then the miracle in Gabba a week ago, his leadership deserves consideration.
Make no bones about it, Virat Kohli will remain India's Test captain for some time to come. His track record as captain cannot be ignored for he has won more Tests than any other Indian skipper before him.
Kohli is a force of nature, inspiring mere mortals from a pedestal of excellence in search of machine-like precision. Precisely why, even 33 Test wins later, we are at this juncture, wondering if the man hissing and snarling at every opponent is absolutely the right man for the job, the right ambassador.
Rahane's quiet, undemonstrative marshalling of the 'Hardly XI' to victory against Australia in the fourth and final Test in Brisbane to claim the series 2-1 is a triumph so improbable, it's not unnatural to consider the possibility of Rahane taking over as skipper.
Should that utopian future play out, Kohli, arguably the greatest batsman of our generation, will have the opportunity to once again funnel his renewable energy towards batting and fielding (catching in particular), while Rahane will be left to handle the less-rewarding task of handling men.
'I think Rahane was the right man for the job (in Gabba),' says Webster. 'I don't think, given Kohli's style of captaincy, he would have been able to deliver the way Rahane did. Not to say Kohli is a bad captain. The predicament they found themselves in with the injuries and all could have been overwhelming for Kohli's style of management.'
Rahane knows he isn't a once-in-a-lifetime cricketer, he isn't even the second-best (if that) batsman in the current team. He knows he doesn't have a demonstrative fire in him, the snarl certainly doesn't suit him. But he knows himself well enough to know what isn't him. And as a captain, he knows what he can ask from men and how to ask it. Most importantly, he knows his men and his men know him.
'I have seen Kohli as a captain a little and I have noticed that people fear him,' says Webster. 'With great players like that, they tend to make others feel inferior without even trying. When people are playing with that on their mind, it's hard to get them to be free and play the game the way it's true to them.
'Sometimes, under Kohli, I feel like the team views everyday details as a chore,' he adds with a chuckle.
Paddy Upton, a world-renowned mental coach from South Africa, seconds Webster's take and elucidates further. 'Kohli is very demonstrative. Every play evokes emotions in him which is why he celebrates as exuberantly as he shows anguish and distaste when a mistake is made,' says Upton, who worked with the Indian team for a significant period of time in Gary Kirsten's era, describing ways in which Kohli can be un-empathetic on the field.
'When you see that, especially young players, you're already walking on thin ice, you're more scared and fearful of making mistakes. When you start equating even the smallest of failures to your captain's anger, you start tightening up as a player. Every move of yours is dictated then by what he wants to see.
'Rahane is equanimous. He has a fire in him but it's controlled. That calm and his general demeanour allows him to be approachable and more relatable to people in the team. That could be why they played as well as they did at the Gabba, show a level of camaraderie I haven't seen in Test cricket in a while.'
Upton also brought up the cultural stigmas in India which perpetuate hierarchy, a reason why he reckons Kohli will be respected and feared but never followed quite the same way a Rahane. 'In India, there is a culture of respect for a senior player, it's not bad but sometimes it's toxic. When someone like a captain expresses disappointment, the younger player consumes that reaction as a reflection of their identity,' he says. 'In that sense, they believe, it's detrimental to their future if they don't defer to authority. It's changing slowly now.
'Rahane is someone they can relate to, he isn't an authority, he isn't telling them how to do what they, as international cricketers, already know how to do. He's one of them. Kohli, on the other hand, is a demigod of sorts. I don't think they are worlds apart in strategy and technical nous, but they are chalk and cheese as personalities. Kohli is inspirational, way more than Rahane, but there is more potential for a downside with Kohli. With Rahane, it's even-keeled the whole time.'
As it stands, the team plays under Kohli while it plays for Rahane. But does it matter as long as the team wins?