When Ajinkya Rahane joined Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease during the third day of the second Test between India and Australia at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, the hosts were facing a rather grim situation. If the 0-1 series deficit was not distraction enough, they had lost four wickets in their second innings with a lead of just 33 runs.
The 2017 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was rapidly slipping out their grasp. The visitors were smelling blood, the crowd’s enthusiasm beginning to make way for a feeling of resignation.
Even as Pujara was battling hard for survival, Rahane was arriving on the back of some indifferent form. With only one half-century from his previous 11 Test innings, the soft-spoken Mumbaikar knew that the noose was tightening on him. It was even more evident when the team management bizarrely attached undue importance to the benefits of a left-right pairing and sent in Ravindra Jadeja ahead of him.
In particular, the post-tea session carried enormous significance to the context of the series. Another batting collapse from India would effectively end their chances. The memories of the Pune Test as well as the first innings of this one reared from the hinges. If ever a set of circumstances begged for something special, this was one.
Slowly and steadily, Pujara and Rahane began to combine together to pull their team back into the contest. Fortitude as well as a full toss helped India kick start the final session of the day with a couple of boundaries. However, at the other end, Josh Hazlewood continued to trouble the batsmen by extracting up and down movement from the peculiar surface.
A couple of deliveries kept so low that Rahane was beaten on the bottom edge. The metronomic seamer’s accuracy finally relented when a short, wide delivery evoked a gleeful response from the right-hander. As amazing it may seem, it does take only one glorious shot for an under fire batsman to get his confidence back.
Eager to make things happen, Steven Smith opted for a double bowling change. While Hazlewood’s persistence made way for Mitchell Starc’s heavy artillery, Lyon was replaced by straight man Steve O’Keefe.
Pujara kept pushing Rahane hard and the strike was being rotated quite efficiently. With Smith blocking most of their boundary options, the duo took whatever runs they could by running hard between the wickets.
As the pitch continued to offer sharp turn and inconsistent bounce, the Saurashtra batsman had to endure quite a few nervous moments against O’Keefe. Upon reaching one of his more satisfying half-centuries, Pujara began to feel more at ease. Tailor-made for such a situation, he mixed defense with percentage cricket to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Meanwhile, Rahane relied on his sweep shot to counter Lyon’s inward line. Taking an off-stump guard to limit the possibility of getting trapped in front, he swept with purpose to derail Australia’s plans. As the day wore on, the loose deliveries came more often and the Indian batsmen pounced upon them to swell the lead.
At the end of the third day’s play, India had reached 213/4 with their lead standing at 126 runs. The fifth-wicket partnership between Pujara and Rahane had already yielded 93 runs, the most in the series thus far. The post-tea session was also the first session in the series thus far to not see the fall of any wicket.
Pujara (batting on 79) and Rahane (batting on 40) not only brought India back into this Test but have also gave them a platform to launch a stirring fight-back for the rest of the series. With the two senior batsmen shouldering the responsibility, the team’s fortunes start to rise once again.