India's stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane on Friday said he would rather focus on his team than worrying about Australia's "mind games" ahead of the 'Boxing Day' Test starting on Saturday (December 26). Australia coach Justin Langer had on Thursday said he would be "happy" if the Indian team is under a bit of stress after the humiliating defeat in the first Test and would like to put pressure on Rahane, who is taking charge in absence of regular skipper Virat Kohli.
"Australians are very good at playing mind games and I will let them do that. We are focussing on ourselves, what we want to do as a unit and we are going to back our every individuals," Rahane said on the eve of the match.
Not as expressive or eloquent as Kohli, Rahane repeated his answers in a loop which was all about "playing to your strengths and backing each other". "It is a proud moment for me leading India, obviously it is a great opportunity, responsibility as well but I don't want to take any pressure," said the dependable middle-order batsman.
"I think what I want to do is back my team. So focus is not on me, it is all about team and how we want to do well as a team. We are focussing on that."
Even skipper Kohli, before leaving for India for the birth of his child, urged Rahane to be himself and play fearless cricket. "Yeah, Virat spoke to all of us, before leaving. We had our team dinner in Adelaide, so he spoke to all of us about staying in the moment, playing for each other and yeah enjoying each other's success and help each other out on the field."
Rahane said one hour of poor cricket on the third morning in Adelaide doesn't define this team. "Talking about last Test match, see comparatively we had two good days, just one bad hour, where we actually lost it completely," he said.
"The chat was all about backing ourself as an individual and as team, play to our strengths and whatever we have planned in the first Test match just stick to that."
Young opener Shubman Gill will make his debut in the second Test and Rahane said he wants to give him and Mayank Agarwal freedom and not put them under undue pressure. "See openers role, not only in Australia, but everywhere is really crucial, I don't want to put any pressure on our openers, just want to give them freedom to play their game.
"... when you get that partnership going, when you get that foundation, then it becomes really easy for coming batsmen."
Mohammed Siraj will also make his debut on Saturday and Rahane termed him "equally talented" even though he didn't name him as the interaction with media happened before India released their playing XI. Rahane expects Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav to form a formidable partnership as he guides the unit from gully, where he will be stationed.
"Apart from Jasprit, Umesh (Yadav) and the guy (Siraj) who will play instead of (Mohammed) Shami tomorrow, they are also equally talented.
"Umesh has been doing really well for so many years, so it is all about bowling in partnerships for us."
So any specific areas that the batsmen worked on? "Nothing really special, we have to back our basics, back our plans, as I said earlier, we just had one bad hour, so it is all about staying positive, backing your own ability and batting in partnerships," Rahane said.
India have won three Tests in the last 73 years at the MCG and Rahane reckons the wicket will be a bit different this time. "See generally MCG is ... 2018 was slightly different wicket, but generally when we played here in 2014 and the other teams when they played here, it is actually a very good wicket, plays really well," Rahane said.
It's possible that there could be turn on offer as India have two spinners on board. "Tomorrow will be different. We don't know that, we have to go and see and adapt to the wicket as quick as possible."
'Apologised to Kohli'
Rahane said he had apologised to Virat Kohli after his horrible mix-up with him led to the India captain's game-changing run out in the first Test against Australia in Adelaide. Kohli was looking solid before the suicidal run out for 74 on the opening day at Adelaide Oval. Upon realising that there was no run in it, Rahane decided to send back Kohli but it was too late by then.
What followed was an inexplicable batting collapse, due to which the visitors crumbled to their lowest Test score of 36 in their second innings. "After the end of day's play I went and said sorry to him (Kohli) but he was all okay, he was okay about it," Rahane said on the eve of the second Test here.
"We both understood that the situation we were in, we were going well at that point, but such things happen in cricket, you got to respect that and you got to move forward."
Stand-in skipper Rahane admitted that the run out handed Australia the momentum as they recorded an eight-wicket win inside two and half days. "It was a really tough one, obviously we were going really well that moment, our partnership was good, and I could actually see that momentum going towards Australia after that run out," Rahane said.
Kohli had backed Rahane to lead from the front in his absence in the remainder of the four-match series. "I have said this previously as well that I feel like this is his (Rahane's) time to really step up and perform strongly as an individual and then as a captain as well," Kohli had said.
"I think, he will do a great job when I am gone back home, so we are on the same page completely and the vision remains simply to put in good performances and make sure that we are competing every game and the idea is to win the series," the batting maestro had said.