Ajinkya Rahane century headlines a safe day for India

Source: Cricinfo

by SportsDiction – 27, December, 2020

India 277 for 5 (Rahane 104*, Gill 45, Jadeja 40*) lead Australia 195 all out by 82 runs.

A century of the highest calibre by Ajinkya Rahane put India in control of the second Test after it appeared Australia would bowl themselves back into contention. Instead, with the help of a string of middle-order allies, chiefly the recalled Ravindra Jadeja in an unbroken stand of 104, Rahane lifted his team to an advantage of 82.

Australia started the day well – Pat Cummins producing a magnificent eight-over spell that removed both overnight batsmen, Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara, and included barely a delivery off line – but tailed off during the final session which included shipping 45 runs in 11.3 overs of the second new ball. Rain brought a slightly early finish, what ended up being the final delivery of the day bringing Rahane his third life when he fended a short ball to point against an increasingly frustrated Mitchell Starc but the chance burst out of Travis Head’s hands as he hit the turf.

They had two other opportunities to remove Rahane – one a miss and the other a drop. On 57, he edged Starc between Tim Paine and the lone slip Steven Smith moments after the off-side field had been strengthened at the expense of the cordon. Then, on 73, in the first over with the second new ball a chance went to hand, Rahane jabbing at a full, wide delivery from Starc, but Smith was late to react above his head at second slip. By the end of the day, Australia were ragged and in need of regrouping.

Rahane needed treatment for what appeared a back problem twice during the afternoon session (and later for blows on the hand and neck) but it did not disrupt his almost zen-like progression at the crease. His 12th Test century, and second at the MCG, came up from 195 balls with a fierce square cut against Cummins, a hallmark of an innings where his strokeplay flourished when he wanted it to. Rarely did he miss the chance to score amid over after over of keeping out the good balls, the softness of his hands ensuring when the edge was found it usually went to ground. His most prolific scoring area with 20 runs was third man.

India managed just 54 runs in the first session and Australia will have come away feeling they could have had more than two wickets. Cummins was magnificent – he beat Pujara with the first delivery of the day, close to enough for Paine to burn a review – and Josh Hazlewood could have had Gill in the second over when Paine was unable to hold an inside edge diving to his left.

Cummins eventually lured Gill into an expansive drive to end a promising maiden Test innings and in his next over claimed the huge prize of Pujara, although this one owed everything to Australia’s captain as he flung himself in front of first slip to hold a low chance that would not have carried. That was, however, to prove the exception in the fielding effort. At the time, Australia’s 195 was looking considerable and Cummins was rested with a spell that read 8-4-12-2.

India, with Rahane absorbing a lot of pressure, did very well to take the sting out of the session, whittling the deficit down well inside three figures before Nathan Lyon, who found considerable turn on occasions to suggest a fourth-innings run chase will be a demanding prospect, removed Hanuma Vihari with a gloved sweep.

Up to this point, Australia had controlled the run rate so despite a small first-innings total they always had a little bit of breathing space. That changed with the arrival of Rishabh Pant who brought impetus and quickly skipped to 24 at a run-a-ball with some measured, selective strokeplay. It appeared to help free up Rahane, too, although that was also the reward for his hours of earlier hard work.

Pant was cut off by Starc, bringing up his 250th Test wicket, when he edged a cut with India still behind and Australia hopeful of something close to parity, but that door was slammed shut. Jadeja, effectively brought in as Virat Kohli’s replacement, played a central role with an innings of maturity and patience. By the close, when he had faced 104 deliveries, he had struck just one boundary – a neat back-foot punch off Cameron Green. He showed a defence to match Rahane’s and resisted trying to take on Lyon.

As the wind suddenly swirled around the MCG, Starc got a delivery to climb at Rahane but it was the India captain’s day. He was getting treatment from the physio when, in what was perfect timing for India, the rain arrived and the umpires called play off. Few deserved the comfort of the dressing room more than Rahane. A chance to take stock and resume tomorrow. However, he may already have defined this game.