“India took the lead riding on Rahane’s courage and this time around, Australia failed to essay something spectacular – their batting, still, seems to be trapped in the bubble of Big Bash League. After the darkness came the sunshine in the Indian dressing room”
“I felt [I learned] backing your instinct, remaining calm under pressure, backing your own strengths and methods, which I really focus on. I really learned a lot during that Test.”
“We have got to back our basics, back our plans. We just had one bad hour so it is all about staying positive, backing your own ability, and batting in partnerships. As a batting unit, that matters a lot: communication and batting in partnerships. We are focusing on that.”
That is what Ajinkya Rahane said before the start of the Boxing Day Test. A few days back, it was a nightmare in Broad Day Light at Adelaide. To the astonishment of their fans and neutrals, the Indian team folded for just 36 runs, and Australia, who were on the back foot from the start, took the lead.
That defeat was a disgrace and until and unless the team shows the character in Melbourne, would be tough to stay alive in the series. Moreover, the absence of Virat Kohli would test the temperament of the team and the stand-in captain Rahane more.
But team India kept their basics right and the basic is playing Test cricket the way it should be.
On Day 1, the Indian bowlers shot-out Australia under 200 runs once again – minus Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. And, guess what, the leader of the pack turned out to be Ravichandran Ashwin – the man, who is more often criticized for his dismal record away from the subcontinent.
Rahane introduced him in the first hour – only the second time he is being used as an attacking option before the third seamer in a Test outside Asia and the West Indies. The intention was to exploit the moisture on the surface and extract turn against the batters – especially against the southpaws. By now, Ashwin has mastered the art of not only extracting turn from the deck but exploit the bounce like Lyon on Australian decks.
Wade was done and dusted for not trusting his defence and footwork – danced down the deck to dominate and succumbed under pressure. When the right-handers started to settle on the wicket, the field changed to 6-3 and a leg trap with two short-legs and midwicket –when required, two men were placed in the midwicket position.
Ashwin trusted on the straighter lines, changed his pace, trajectory, and seam position consistently, but one important could be said, Ashwin’s variation and discipline are well known to Steve Smith, who should have spent enough time on the wicket rather than falling to the middle-and-leg stump line.
Marnus Labuschagne was another interesting case, who was undone by a delivery that held its line and then changed direction to square-up Marnus. Whereas the kind of caliber Marnus possesses, he could have played it forward and cover the length – he played it back and closed his bat.
With Smith and Marnus leaving cheaply – the rest of the Australian batters fell quickly.
Nevertheless, Ashwin should be credited for his guile and fighting spirit.
He is an improved customer and of course, had he taken the T20 Leagues too seriously, he would never have been the bowler that he is now.
It was time for the Indian batters to bury the ghost of Adelaide and it was time for the captain to dish out an absolute master class down under, which would be talked about in years to come.
Rahane should have flourished more than the present batsman he is.
But in the last couple of years, his grit and determination had determined the fate of India in test cricket – from that gritty 48 runs at the Wanderers to that knock in Trent Bridge and Adelaide in 2018 – Rahane’s impact can never be undermined – still, he is not right up there.
Here come another testing days of cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with the Australian bowlers breathing fire to claw back into the game.
Rahane shunned the hangover at Adelaide and trusted his defence and footwork.
He backed the basics of cricket – occupy the crease, use the feet, more faith in back-foot stroke-play, and keep the back lift straight in line with the wicketkeeper rather than facing it to the slip or gully.
Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara exhausted the pacers, but yet again, another collapse was around the corner and Rahane entered the scene to arrest that.
Rahane dropped the anchors and started to occupy the crease. Until and unless, you don’t spend time at the crease, you would not be able to gain control over the likes of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon.
17 runs off 59 balls did not satisfy those, who barks like a street dog about strike rates in Test cricket, but such ignorant classes forget, this resolve is the basic to graft an innings in Test cricket.
After the resolve, came the next phase – display of high-quality technique and fluency along with it.
Rahane dominated Lyon by exhibiting astute footwork – he played the ball forward and defended when Lyon pitched the ball in that length to extract bounce and cut him into halves – but Rahane covered the length with his front foot and bat, while Lyon pulled back his length to outweigh Rahane’s resolve, he was quick to shift balance on the back foot and play the ball late.
In that afternoon session, he rotated the strike and did not hit a boundary. The five false shots which Rahane did give up to Lyon all came to good length deliveries – he became more and more assured of himself.
Now, this was Test batting at its very best – the sort of thing, which we watched before T20 emerged as the demon and destroy the fun.
Against the red-hot Australian pacers, he was equally authoritative.
As Cricviz says, “Yet after lunch, Tim Paine either instructed his bowlers to get straighter, or they simply lost their lines. 24% of the seamers’ deliveries in the afternoon session were in line with the stumps, a figure which before lunch had been only 12%, the majority of their bowling happily in the channel. Rahane obliged, tucking readily into the feast off his hip, 22 of his half-century runs coming square on the legside.”
“Then the second new ball arrived, and everything changed – and at first, it was for worse. Rahane threw his bat at a wide ball from Starc, and the edge flew up to Steve Smith at slip, who duly let the ball through his hands. Then, things changed for the better. The second over with that new ball got the treatment, first over of second new ball; second over, got stuck into driving Cummins. A full-blooded four in the V drew a beaming smile from Rahane, the sense of relief visibly washing over him. Most of the work had been done; now it was time for some fun.”
“His scoring areas became straighter, moving from squarer earlier in the day, those drives moving from a rarity to a once, twice an over event. His attacking shot percentage went from 18% to a massive 39%, and his last 33 deliveries (those against the second new ball) brought 31 runs. There were hard, flashing cuts through point, exaggerated flourishing flicks; an air of ostentatious flair coming through after all the hard yards, and in truth, the pressure had subsided.”
A marvelous hundred was scripted and one also can’t deny how well he was supported by Ravindra Jadeja at the other end – who provided the perfect foil o Rahane’s grit and composure.
India took the lead riding on Rahane’s courage and this time around, Australia failed to essay something spectacular – their batting, still, seems to be trapped in the bubble of Big Bash League.
After the darkness came the sunshine in the Indian dressing room.