Ajinkya Rahane displayed all his grit, mettle and skills as he scored a perfect century to send Australia onto the backfoot as India took a solid 82-run lead before rain forced an end to the day’s play at the MCG on Sunday. Beginning the day at 36 for 1, the visiting team lost two more crucial wickets but crucial knocks from Rishabh Pant, Hanuma Vihari, Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja ensured that the Indians ended the day with 277 for 5 on the board, and with their noses ahead.
The Australian pacers were at the top of their game in the first hour of play, but poor fielding is what let them down. As many as five catches have been dropped in India’s innings thus far – including Shubman Gill’s catch on Day 1. Aggressive batting with a positive intent from the Indians further increased the troubles for the Australians, who would have had Rahane for 78 had Steve Smith, at slips, had latched on to the edge. The stand-in skipper made the most of his opportunity as he got to triple digits – one that could possibly be written off as the best of his career thus far.
After Team India lost the wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Shubman Gill early on Day 2, Rahane took it upon himself to steady the ship. He shared vital knocks with Hanuma Vihari, Pant and Jadeja. While Vihari and Pant threw away their good starts, the spinning all-rounder remained unbeaten as he kept his eyes on the ball and gave Rahane ample support. By the end of the day, the Australian shoulders had drooped, and Team India should be proud of a job well done in the absence of their mainstays, Virat Kohli and Mohammad Shami.
The day, however, did not begin on the best of notes for the Indian side as the Australian pacers troubled Pujara and Gill with accurate lines and lengths. However, luck failed to go their way as edges fell short and a number of catches were put down. Gill was dropped for the second time as everything that the Australian pacers did failed to get a wicket. Josh Hazlewood was brilliant with his lines, Cummins bowled his fastest spell in Tests and Mitchell Starc was unlucky too as the frustration increased. Cummins was finally rewarded for his hard work as he got bought overnight batsmen in quick time to send the Indians into a tizzy.
It was India’s game thereafter as Vihari and Pant broke the shackles with some counter-attacking cricket that allowed Rahane to get in and get into his groove. Despite their dismissals, Rahane carried on and found an able partner in Ravindra Jadeja, who has shown his batting prowess in tough conditions in the last few years in the format. The Australians could have had Rahane in the last over of the day when a bouncer bumped him on the handle. However, Travis Head, despite catching the ball initially, lost control when hi elbows hit the ground, which only worsened the outing that they had.
Brief scores: Australia 195 (Matthew Wade 30, Travis Head 38, Marnus Labuschagne 48; Jasprit Bumrah 4-56, R Ashwin 3-35) lead India 277/5 (Shubman Gill 45, Ajinkya Rahane 104*, Ravindra Jadeja 40*; Pat Cummins 2-71, Mitchell Starc 2-61) by 82 runs.