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The Rahul-Vijay partnership gave India a cautious start on Day 3, but still, the doubts remain……

Australia handed India a slender 15-run lead after they were bowled out for 235 on Day Three of the first Test at Adelaide. Once Australia’s innings was over, the attention immediately shifted to the Indian openers, who were already under the pump going into this Test, more so, after they played poor shots in the first innings and fell for cheap scores. Despite taking a 15-run first innings lead, it was important for India to get off to a good, solid start. If they were to go the first innings way – which saw them reduced to 19 for 3, with KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli back in the pavilion – their situation would once again be bleak. However, Rahil and Vijay realised what a great opportunity it was to make up for their poor show in the first innings and played with caution in the second innings.

Once Australia’s innings came to an end, the attention then shifted on the Indian openers – both of whom who played a dreadful shot to get out. Vijay, who is known for his ability to leave the ball outside off, know his off stump well and play some soothing shots has clearly not been up to the mark in India’s previous two overseas tours – against South Africa, against whom he managed just 102 runs from 6 innings at 17 and against England he was dropped in the middle of the series after scoring just 26 runs from 4 innings at 6.50. He, however, went to County cricket after that and made some runs, which would have surely given him confidence. In the 2014-15 tour of Australia, Vijay was one of India’s mainstays. He scored 482 runs from 8 innings 60.25, which perhaps prompted the selectors to pick him on this tour. He was on top of his game on that tour and oozed confidence with every passing delivery he faced. However, he seems to be a bit shaky this time around. He is perhaps one big innings from regaining confidence.

Rahul, who made his Test debut on India’s previous tour of Australia, faced a lot of issues with the balls coming in, especially during the recent tour of England. He was often trapped leg-before or bowled by the fast bowlers. Rahul has a sound technique and is not afraid to play extravagant sots even in Tests. His fearless strokeplay is one of the most striking features about him, but he needs to adapt to situations before he starts going after the bowlers. He might keep away 9 out of the 10 deliveries coming in, but will more often than not be outdone by the 10th one. He is someone who does not like to be bogged down, yet can play long innings and has the appetite for big hundreds.

There is a vast difference between driving the ball in sub-continent countries like India and in countries like Australia. In India, one might get a boundary for playing flashy drives outside off, provided if you move your feet well and have good control over the ball. In Australia however, with the ball doing a lot more than the Indian pitches, there are high chances that the ball will take the edge and you might be caught by the wicketkeeper or first slip. It is always important to pick the right ball to go for a drive. The lofted shot Rahul hit off Pat Cummins earlier in the innings fetched him a six as the ball was well wide and gave Rahul a chance to swing his hands and go hard at it. However, he attempted a similar shot off Josh Hazlewood, except this time the ball was much closer to the wicket, but almost on the same length. This time Rahul was caught at slip for 44.

Also read: Murali Vijay: End of the Road?

This was Vijay and Rahul’s first ever 50-run stand Test outside India. Their 63-run opening stand has set the platform for India to get a big second innings lead and set the Australians a competitive total. With India already having secured a 166-run lead with 7 wickets in hand, they are perhaps well on course, but one can expect the Aussies to come out all guns blazing on Day Four.

Rahul played a lot of risky shots. Some fell shirt of the close in fielders, while some he played and missed. But there was some positive intent from the batsman and was determined not to throw it away this time. Vijay, on the other hand, was a little more circumspect. He fell off similar deliveries in both innings, but in reality, he did not get too many full deliveries in this innings, which gave him a chance to have a closer look at the ball. His dismissal in both the innings was amongst the fullest deliveries. Australia would have certainly made a mental note of this.

Also, something that went in India’s favour was the lack of swing. With the rain break early in the day and being a bit overcast, one felt that the Australian bowlers will get a chance to make more of this. However, there was very less swing compared to the first innings, which perhaps made life easier for the Indian openers. With both Rahul and Vijay chasing balls well outside off in the first innings, Australia perhaps overdid bowling wide to both the batsmen. It cost them a few more runs, but in the end, such deliveries did the job for them.

Rahul was criticised by batting coach Sanjay Bangar for the way he threw away his wicket in the practice match before the Test series and had it not been for Prithvi Shaw injury, we might not have seen him at Adelaide. But he seems to have redeemed himself with a decent knock in the second innings. More than Rahul, it is Vijay’s form that has been more worrying. After the century against Afghanistan at Bengaluru, he has scores of 6, 0, 0, 11 and 18, which puts his place in the side in jeopardy as well.

It is somewhat of a respite for India, whose opening combinations have struggled this year outside Asia. This Vijay-Rahul stand is something to cheer for the Indian team at least for the time being, who have always been let down by their openers more often than not in the recent past. Even though, Vijay’s form is still not satisfactory enough.

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