BATTING ON 99, Ajinkya Rahane would probably not have believed his luck with what was dished out to him by Imran Tahir. It was an innocuous delivery on leg stump, which India’s No.6 calmly flicked to square leg for a single.
Lunch on Day 4 was still some 20 minutes away, but the entire Feroz Shah Kotla was on it’s feet. This is because with this single, Rahane achieved a rare feat — something only four other Indians had achieved — scoring tons in both innings of a Test match. In the context of the game, his second essay here was indeed a superlative effort. It was however, not surprising that Rahane displayed absolutely no emotion after completing the single.
He rarely does. All he did was to briefly raise his bat towards the dressing room, after walking off the field following captain Virat Kohli’s declaration.
As he walked back to the pavilion with a sixth Test ton against his name, he would be mighty satisfied. Because this ton had come under extremely testing circumstances.
Just a couple of days back, he had broken his home duck with a spectacular 127 to propel India to a competitive 334 in the first innings. However, despite taking a comfortable 213-run lead, Rahane was once again summoned for a second time around with the hosts being in a spot of bother at 57 for 4. Sure, they were 270 runs ahead, but the South African bowlers led by Morne Morkel had given them an opening with a three-wicket burst in the morning session.
India could not afford to lose another wicket at that stage, and the situation demanded extreme caution and someone to just put their head down and grind against some quality bowling from the Proteas. Thankfully for India, Rahane did just that. There were vast periods of play in which he did not score. But neither did he give the opposition bowlers a whiff. In the interim, he was more than happy to let his captain Kohli play the role of the aggressor. The scoreboard kept ticking over, but Rahane displayed gumption and provided a dogged and flawless exhibition of simple old-fashioned batsmanship.
The Proteas just did not have an answer to Rahane’s solidity.
Proteas pacer Kyle Abbott, who took five wickets in the first innings, struggled in the second. His candid comments gives an insight into how the two, especially Rahane had deflated them. “If you look at their partnership, I think they have scored at a strike rate of 40. When there is not much happening, and the batsmen aren’t taking too many risks, it gets even more difficult,” he said.
As Rahane approached his fifty on Day 3, he finally began to show some intent and came out of his shell, scoring some pleasant boundaries. By the time Kohli was dismissed for 88 early on Day 4, the duo had stitched a 154-run stand to put India in a position of sheer dominance. After Kohli’s dismissal, Rahane well and truly stepped it up with a series of some delectable strokes, to push India’s lead to well over the 450-run mark. He started off with a delicate upper-cut off the bowling of Morne Morkel that sailed over the third man boundary for a six. If that was not enough, Rahane then followed it up yet another six over midwicket off Tahir to take him into the 80s. He then followed it up with another six over deep mid-wicket in the next over off Dean Elgar.
The absolute ease with which he changed gears spanning two sessions of a Test match is one of the many highlights of the match. Without Rahane’s 227 crucial runs (127+100) in the two innings here in Kotla, this could well have turned out to be a more intense duel. Over the last two years, Rahane has turned into a vital cog in this young Indian batting line-up. Push him up the order, or down, he has always answered his team’s call. In many ways he is the Indian team’s true global citizen, scoring runs almost everywhere in South Africa, New Zealand, England, Australia and even Sri Lanka. And now, the twin tons at the Feroz Shah Kotla — the venue in which he had made his debut more than two years ago — will surely quell all talk about his so-called inability to play on turning tracks.