Skipper missing as Ravi Shastri takes Ajinkya Rahane’s place

When was the last time the captain of a cricket team was absent from the post-match press conference after a famous win?

It would be a difficult question to answer, simply because it happens so rarely. Yet, Ajinkya Rahane, on the day of his greatest triumph in his sporting career, the day he engineered the improbable, leading India to victory in the second Test after the team had been left in tatters in their worst ever Test debacle in the series opener, did not address the press.

Rahane did not just lead the team—a depleted one without its most talismanic batsman in Virat Kohli and its two main bowlers in Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami, a team with two debutants—he was also the Man of the Match, the man who top-scored in the Test with a battling 112 that will go down as one of the great batting performances in the game.

But we did not get to hear from him. We did not get to hear his thoughts, explore the plans he put in place to bring Australia down, hear him speak about his own innings and the challenges he overcame. We did not get to hear him talk about how he used the resources available to him with great ingenuity or how he paired Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin to run rings around Steve Smith and Australia.

Instead, we had coach Ravi Shastri. If this was football, the coach presenting his point of view at the end of a memorable triumph would pass without question. In football, the coach is the face of the team, its chief strategist, the man who makes all the decisions.

The opposite is true for cricket, where it’s the captain, standing out there in the middle, who steers the team through the game, makes the micro and macro decisions and executes the plans that will lead to the outcome.

There can only be one excuse for the coach speaking to the press instead of the captain—Rahane was unwell, indisposed.

But we saw no signs of that through the time he spent on the field, or when he walked up to the mic at the post-match presentation.

Shastri has been a constant presence at press conferences when India win. He was there after India’s historic series win in Australia in 2018-19. He was there when India won the third Test in South Africa with Rahane in the team. India had lost the first two with Rahane not playing. And he was there when India bounced back to win the ODI series in South Africa. On both those occasions, and in many others, captain Virat Kohli was with him.

The only other time that a captain stayed away from the press that I can think of is during India’s tour of Australia in 2011-12, where India lost all four matches. On a tour where both Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman retired, Dhoni did not attend the press conferences. He sent a debutant instead—R Ashwin.

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