How India overcame relying on Virat Kohli to beat Australia
The imperfect ones scripted a near perfect win.
Dodgy shoulder meets dodgy knee meets dodgy form. Further, dodgy pitch meets dodgy reviews meets dodgy series opener. 0-1 down in the series, after losing his opening mate for a duck, it was up to KL Rahul, in Cheteshwar Pujara’s company, to make something out of a dodgy start. They did.
But after their partnership of 61 runs (also the innings highest), there wasn’t another fifty-run one. Dodgy little ones followed, India was bowled out for 189. A dodgy first innings’ score, with the fresh promise to go 0-2 down in the series.
In addition to Rahul’s 90, there was one unseen positive. India had batted 71.2 overs. In the two innings of the first Test, India only batted a combined 74 overs (40.1 and 33.5 overs).
And while Australia batted long, right into the third day, India kept Australia’s scoring down to a dodgy run rate of 2.25. Australia’s lead of 87, although significant, wasn’t quite backbreaking. And in spite of Rahul’s dodgy shoulder, Pujara’s dodgy knee, Rahane’s dodgy form, their spines were intact.
After joining Rahul at 11/1 in the first innings, Pujara joined him again at 38/1 – India still 48 runs in arrears. When Rahul was dismissed, India was ahead, and the two had stitched together the second highest partnership of the innings – on a dodgy Bangalore pitch, those 45 runs were gold.
Already in his short Test career, Rahul has brought criticism upon himself for being too loose to open the innings. While he is far from textbook outside off, when he creams them through the covers, the icing accompanies the cake with a lit red candle thrown in.
|Cheteshwar Pujara, right, and Ajinkya Rahane leave the field at the end of day's play on Day 3.|
In the series so far, he has outscored openers on both sides – his 215 runs to next-best Renshaw’s 133 runs. He’s also the top scorer on both sides, next is Steve Smith with 172 runs. But backing Rahul isn’t an easy call in Tests – in addition to the dodgy shoulder and being dodgy outside off, he will play the occasional odd dodgy shot. As he did in the first innings in Pune.
However, in addition to Kohli, he is the only top order batsman with active roots in India’s limited overs’ cricket (Pujara, Rahane, Vijay are not T20I, ODI mainstays, they may never be). It may be in the team’s best interests to accept Rahul’s adventurism – two of his three half centuries in this series have been scored at a strike rate of 60+ (match defining in these conditions)
After Rahul’s wicket, India found itself lost in the Kohli-LBW decision and the Jadeja promotion gone wrong. It was at 120/4, only 33 runs ahead, that Pujara was joined by Rahane on probation.
Pujara has in the past, flourished on return, after being dropped from the side. On this occasion, the Aussies dropped him, repeatedly. They paid, much as India has when they have dropped their number three man (Pujara has the most runs by any batsman at No.3 in Tests since 2016 – ahead of Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Hashim Amla; and at a much higher batting average).
Keeping Pujara company was Rahane, also dropped, though only once. That was enough for him to rediscover his range – gone was the dodginess of recent innings, replaced by a surety in defence, footwork and shot selection. What followed was strike rotation, and the first session in the series when a wicket didn’t fall.
In Pujara and Rahane, India found balance. One that was achieved by almost similar personalities, soft spoken, introspective, concerned for the well-being of the other – almost more than their own.
The two crept up on Australia, without a hint of the fatal damage they were causing them. It was quiet, workmanlike occupation of the crease. Barely an over went without a single being taken. Barely a maiden bowled. Bit by bit, these two bared the bowling.
In the post-tea session on the third day, India slowly deep-fried Australia and some pakoras to go – with a single in the 68th over, Rahane on one knee, swept India past their first 200 plus score of the series.
Here’s Kohli on Pujara-Rahane:
“After conceding the lead, that was a champion partnership. The only 100-run partnership in the series so far. Two guys stepping up, I would say two best Test players we have got in our side and showed so much character, technique and heart to pull the team out of trouble and to get the lead”
A few days back, after India’s first innings debacle, it was asked, "Can this team rise without its best man?”
KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have risen, beyond their dodgy selves and squared the series. While Rahul was declared Man of the Match, Kohli’s words will push Pujara and Rahane on, as will their match-defining partnership.
It was their 118 runs across two days and 45.2 overs, right into the second new ball, that brought upon a new dawn in this series. A 188-run target on this pitch was more like the 300 runs Michael Clarke thought India needed. India knew that, and deep down Australia knew it too. Which is why they lost 6 for 11 in Bangalore after India lost 7 for 11 in Pune.
The fat lady was long done with her singing. But who would’ve thought a dodgy shoulder, dodgy knee and dodgy form would join in in the chorus?