Great Escape at SCG Has the Imprint of Ajinkya Rahane’s Character

To remain sane despite all that is going on and keep the best attack on the planet at bay requires nerves of steel.

Updated
Cricket
4 min read
India captain Ajinkya Rahane hugs R Ashwin after the Sydney Test. 
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Before India’s Test series against Australia began, Cricket Australia did a build-up with the two best batsmen on either side, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith.

Both champion batsmen interviewed each other in what was meant to build the hype for the series. Smith asked his rival about a possible batsman who can emerge from the series. "Hanuma Vihari," was Kohli's reply.

Just over a month ago when this was said, no one took Kohli seriously. Then came the debacle at Adelaide and everyone felt Kohli had completely misread the talent. Nearly a month later, Kohli is having the last laugh not just in joy over the birth of his newborn baby girl, but also over his prediction about Vihari coming right!

Since he came in as a surprise pick on the 2018 England tour, despite the presence of triple centurion Karun Nair, Vihari has defied convention. He took the regular first-class-India A route to the Test squad. Hence not many fancies him, because he does not have a glamour boy image like those playing the IPL.

He is very much cut in the Cheteshwar Pujara mould of batsmanship as he battled on like his fellow Test specialist to save a famous Test for India at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

What made the effort even more commendable was the fact that Vihari was unable to move having torn his hamstring. But he battled on, in the company of another man who had tweaked his back and was unable to move himself, Ravichandran Ashwin.

Rishabh Pant, R Ashwin, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal in SCG dressing room. 
Rishabh Pant, R Ashwin, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal in SCG dressing room. 
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara/Twitter

For close to 42 overs to see Vihari and Ashwin cop blows on their body, battle pain and take on the Australian bowlers and their mouths was a treat to watch. Together they defied the odds brilliantly, underlining the impact that Ajinkya Rahane has had on the side with his calm leadership skills.

The pair of Vihari-Ashwin showed that they may not be able to move and the next man Ravindra Jadeja was unable to lift his hand, but they were prepared to fight it out. Just this fact makes the Great Escape at Sydney memorable and should rank amongst India’s greatest efforts in Test cricket.

Vihari had been batting after facing flak for his tardy catching, listless fielding and his run-out in the first innings. In fact, Vihari because of being a Test specialist always faces the ire and is perennially ‘considered to be out of form’, because of long gaps between Tests.

To still be standing in a bout after losing their premier batsman, premier fast bowlers and now potentially their premier all-rounder too is something that not many would have predicted. But the way India has held on shows that there is more to this side than just the big names.

One such name to emerge early on the fifth day was Rishabh Pant, who once again showed why so many back him. His fearless and radical counter attack completely rattled Australia. Victory for India was unlikely even then, but Pant despite copping a blow on his elbow came out all guns blazing showing just how valuable he can be if he is unshackled. Pant had been at the receiving end for his keeping after having dropped two catches, but he is a talent to reckon with. He just needs to be left alone and should not become the centre of attention of debates. He can be an asset in all three formats with his unique approach.

Pant’s aggression ensured that even India could dream of overhauling the target of 407.

Another man facing flak was Pujara, who is the side’s premier batsman after Kohli in Tests. Pujara, the hero of the 2018-19 series wins here in Australia, had been criticised for his lack of intent in the first innings.

People forget that Pujara and Pant are as different as chalk and cheese, but they are both needed in this Test XI. Both provide different facets of batsmanship which is a must in any XI.  Just like growling and abusing is not aggression, Pujara’s staid batting also has intent which is not visible to those bred on white-ball tamasha.

The Test may be drawn but the series is still up for grabs. History is against India, with Australia going to their fortress at Gabba with a lot of pain. Their captain Tim Paine lacks the gift of the gab and therefore has plenty to answer, so may turn up the volume a bit more at Brisbane.

India therefore need to be on guard, especially with a number of injuries in the line-up.

The flipside is that the process to select the XI is becoming easier and easier with a number of players missing out. They need to therefore dig deep just like they did at Melbourne and Sydney.

We may see a new opening pair yet again, a greenhorn paceman and possibly further changes in the middle-order in the final Test of the series.  All this therefore makes it a remarkable effort by India to be able to still be in with a chance to repeat the heroics of 2018-19.

The racist jibes thrown at Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah, the taunts by Paine and the confusion around the venue for the fourth Test has not deterred Rahane & Co. To remain sane despite all that is going on and keep the best attack on the planet at bay requires nerves of steel.

This Indian team has that and a lot more, all maybe thanks to their new leader.

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