India fight back through Rahane, Thakur

- June 9, 2023
| By : Khurram Habib |

India offer resistance as Ajinkya Rahane bats bravely for his 89, Shardul Thakur scores 51 and bowlers frustrate Aussie batsman but it all seems too late now

Ajinkya Rahane of India bats as Wicket-Keeper Alex Carey of Australia looks on during day three of the ICC World Test Championship Final between Australia and India at The Oval on June 09 in London, England. (Photo: Getty)

India woke up to realise their potential and put up a fight on the third day but the damage on the first two days was so substantial that despite the fightback, the World Test Championship final remained heavily skewed in Australia’s favour at stumps.

Australia were wading on shackles imposed by Indian bowlers and were 123/4. But having earned a 173-run lead on first innings thanks to batting dominance on Day One and bowling dominance on Day Two, they already lead India by 296 runs.

The story of the day, however, was Ajinkya Rahane’s gritty batting in his comeback Test. He is returning to the Test side after one-and-a-half years and is playing only because Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul are out injured. He last played a Test in January, 2022.

Even though India lost overnight batsman KS Bharat only on the second ball of the day to be reduced to 152/6, Rahane never looked one to throw in the towel.

Starting at 29, and with the right index finger hurt following a blow on the second day’s evening session, Rahane found early boundaries square on the off-side, simply guiding the deliveries and releasing his right hand off the handle, probably to minimise the impact. Those boundaries gave him confidence and he then brought out his cover drives. In between these, he used the bounce to hit Pat Cummins for a six over fine leg and bring up his half-century.

Pravin Amre, former India international and one who has served as Rahane’s batting coach and overseen his practice in recent times at Mumbai’s Banda-Kurla Complex, acknowledged Rahane’s knock as brave.

“It is not easy, being away for 18 months from the team and then coming back and scoring in such a pressure situation. They’d lost five of their top six batsmen and he was the only recognised batsman in. It was not just skills and temperament, but also the courage he showed that is remarkable,” said Amre to Patriot on phone from Mumbai.

“Because of that [blow], he had to alter his grip and some shots had to be curtailed. His partnership (of 109) with Shardul Thakur was a tremendous effort.”

This isn’t the first time Rahane has hurt his index finger. He hurt it in 2016 too when England were touring India and he had to miss the last two Tests.

“Index finger is very important for any batsman with bottom hand grip and he was not getting that proper grip. [But] He managed to score with more of top hand.”

Rahane (89) played his shots on the off-side. Even against off-spinner Nathan Lyon, he carved the off-side and did not work the ball with the spin.

Amre says that Rahane drove on the off-side because, on the on-side, bottom hand and therefore the right index finger, comes into play.

“I think what I liked was the way he handled Nathan Lyon because he had not gone with the spin and used his footwork for a couple of glorious cover drives. But the way he managed that six [to get to his half-century] was extraordinary because he just played with the bounce.”

Thakur (51), who survived early blows on the body from Aussie pacers, kept him company to reach his third half-century in as many innings at The Oval. Both were lucky too as they were dropped.

Cameron Green dropped a sitter to let Thakur off the hook when the batsman was on eight only.

But both cashed in on it to build a century partnership and help India save the follow on.

India then got rid of the openers early, with Mohammad Siraj removing David Warner and Umesh Yadav getting rid of Usman Khawaja. Both Siraj and Mohammad Shami had bowled tightly with the new ball to build pressure on the openers and No. 3 Marnus Labuschagne (batting 41).

But Steve Smith (34) walked in and released the pressure, getting busy with the scoring, extracting opportunities as India went a bit under pressure.

But Smith’s and Travis Head’s dismissals to Ravindra Jadeja (2/25), who bowled a testing spell and was the most impressive of the Indian bowlers, brought cheers to India as they reached stumps.

But the comeback looks to have come late and Day Four will require a miracle.