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New Delhi, Jan 3 (PTI) Ian Chappell was not surprised to see Ajinkya Rahane captain India "flawlessly" to a series-levelling triumph against Australia in the Melbourne Test as he feels the Mumbaikar comes across a "born leader", capable of being both "smart and brave".
Under Rahane, India made a remarkable comeback in Melbourne after their humiliating loss in the first Test in Adelaide, winning by eight wickets. Rahane is stand-in for regular skipper Virat Kohli, who is on paternity leave.
"It was no surprise that Ajinkya Rahane captained India flawlessly at the MCG. Anyone who saw him in charge in Dharamsala in 2017 would have recognised a man born to lead cricket teams," Chappell wrote in his column for 'ESPNcricinfo'.
In that match, India had beaten Australia by eight wickets in the fourth Test to wrap up the series 2-1. Rahane remained not out on 38 in India's run chase -- just like at the MCG -- after scoring 46 in the first innings.
"The moment that caught my attention in the Dharamsala match was the time Rahane called on debutant left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav when David Warner and Steve Smith were involved in a century partnership. 'This is a brave move' I thought, and it turned out to be a very smart one," he recalled.
Yadav quickly claimed the wicket of Warner, caught by Rahane at first slip, and that prompted a five-wicket slide for Australia to lose the match.
"However, there's much more to his leadership than just those two important qualities. He is calm when things could easily get out of hand," said the former captain, who is a respected figure in world cricket.
"He has earned the respect of his team-mates, one of the most important aspects of good captaincy. And he gets runs when they are needed, which adds to the respect his team has for him."
Chappell also praised the performance of Indian bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, R Ashwin and Mohammed Siraj as well as debutant Shubman Gill's show with the bat.
Despite the valuable performances from other Indian players, Chappell said "the Johnny Mullagh medal-winning contribution from Rahane turned the match firmly in India's favour.
"The captain's century came at a time when India could easily have faded to a two-nil deficit, and it was this performance that gave his team the conviction that victory was attainable.
"A former resident of Mumbai told me his wife lip-read Rahane say the words 'Come on, India' when he reached his MCG century. That is another thing that defines Rahane's captaincy: he's all about the team."
Chappell said the tantalising series is far from over and despite the departure of Kohli and injuries to Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, the visitors "have fewer selection headaches than Australia".
"It's helpful that they have a strong, calm leader and a vibrant spirit that has built up under the Kohli-Rahane-Ravi Shastri coalition.
"If India do go on to repeat their last tour's success in Australia, the Mullagh medal won't be the only gong Rahane receives." PTI PDS AT PM