Melbourne : Three years ago, Ajinkya Rahane captained India versus Australia in the final test match of the test series in Dharamsala. There was a sense of calmness in his first test as captain and as if a strategy was running in his head for every stage of the game. He took a gamble and played the debutant Kuldeep Yadav in an intense series which could have resulted in a series loss at home. His faith in the player was repaid when Kuldeep ran through the Aussie top order to give India an early advantage in the test match which was eventually won by them.
Drawing parallels to this game, it was the same opposition here and in the absence of Virat, the same captain. Rahane played two debutants in the match, Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj. All of his plans were in place – introducing Ashwin within the first 10 overs, not handing the ball to the debutant Siraj untill the post-lunch session, accurate DRS decisions, spot on field placements and a very approachable attitude in his leadership.
It was the stand-in captain’s field placing that broke a dangerous-looking partnership between Marnus and Travis Head in the first innings. He positioned a wide leg gully or rather a finer square leg fielder for Marnus. Siraj bowled much straighter to him than the other batsmen which resulted in a flick to that fielder. The catch was completed by Gill and it gave Siraj his first wicket on debut. Similarly, the Smith dismissal in the second innings is misunderstood as the batsman’s error when he was bowled down the leg to Bumrah. But a bunch of fielders were placed much squarer on the on-side forced smith to guide the ball towards fine-leg that ended up clipping the bail.
Everyone knew that Rahane’s abilities on the field as captain were not an issue but questions were lingering on his contribution with the bat. There were reports after the first test match that the team management told Pujara and Rahane taking more responsibility in the team. When Rahane promoted himself to number four from his usual position we knew that he was up for it. He played with caution to protect his wicket because he knew that he was the man to take India past the Australian score. At 64/3 Vihari came in and contributed 20-odd by indulging in a 50-run partnership with Rahane. But after Vihari’s dismissal had Rishabh Pant not scored the flashy 29 runs he scored India would have been in deep trouble. His short but important innings wiped out Australia’s lead to a great extent and opened up Rahane as well because the pressure was lifted off his shoulders. That partnership according to us was the turning point in the match. Rahane was invlolved in two back-to-back 50 + partnerships now.
And after Pant’s wicket, the partnership between Jadeja and Rahane set the game up for India and enabled Rahane to come into his own. He scored his 27 runs before his century in just 30 balls. The shots were played and the runs started to flow because Jadeja looked compact and solid as ever. He gave no chance to the Aussies and looked like a specialist batsman playing at number seven. Just a bat raise towards the dressing room by Rahane when he reached his ton because he knew that he carried the responsibility to take his team to a much bigger lead in terms of runs.
This inning of 112 by Rahane has been of the highest calibre and the situation in which he has scored those runs makes it even more valuable. After the 36 all out performance you’d expect the team to have mental scars from that defeat and especially when your leader, who is also your savior in test matches abroad, is returing back home the signs were ominous. This win, purely based on the circumstances is also being compared to the 2001 Calcutta victory as one of the greatest comebacks in world cricket.
The series is poised at 1-1 and two test matches to go. India should not lift the foot off the pedal now that they have won a test match convincingly whereas you would expect the Aussies to come hard in Sydney.
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