A day after he marshalled his troops admirably on the field, Ajinkya Rahane struck a priceless century in adversity to put India in a commanding position in the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The unbeaten 104 came as a timely balm after the pain inflicted by the humiliation in Adelaide last week. With a lead of 82 runs and five wickets in hand at the end of Day 2, India could now dream of levelling the series.
And the man behind the dream is Rahane.
On Saturday, he made all the right calls as captain. His daring and calmness stood out. On Sunday, he played the right shots as a captain. It was his bloody-mindedness, clarity of stroke-making and the stomach for a fight that stood out.
This could turn out to be not only the defining knock of Rahane’s career, but also one of the finest an Indian batsman has composed abroad. Not perhaps in volume yet, but definitely in impact. It could potentially shape the match, the series, and extend the life-span of a generation that would have been dismantled had India reproduced an encore of the Adelaide capitulation.
With the match on the brink, the series on edge, a generation on the fence, his own career plateauing, pitted against a high-class bowling crew, Rahane stood up.
The more variables you weave in, the more lustre his hundred gains. So much so that the effort merits being spoken of in the same breath as Virat Kohli’s twin hundreds in Adelaide (2014), or Cheteshwar Pujara’s 106 in Melbourne (2018), or Sourav Ganguly’s 144 in Brisbane (2003). Or if India could orchestrate a turnaround in the series, inspire the same awe as Rahul Dravid’s 233 (Adelaide, 2003), considered the finest by an Indian batsman on Australian soil.
It was invaluable on several counts. This was India’s first innings after the capitulation in Adelaide. Even though India had scored twice as many runs as they had in the second innings in Adelaide when he walked out to bat at the fall of Shubman Gill, they were 61/2, far from a position of authority. The Australian bowlers were breathing fire, and they could have swallowed the rest of the batting firm in their fury.
India needed someone to fight fire with ice. Rahane was that man. In his initial days, he had the reputation of being a crisis man, before he slipped into a period of confusion. Since the 2018 tour of South Africa, he has been a largely peripheral figure in Test matches abroad. Barring a century against West Indies, he had been mostly unremarkable. In his last tour of Australia, he managed only 217 runs at a meagre average of 31. There was a time when India feared losing him, when he teetered on the verge of being chopped. The fears now seem unwarranted. Rahane is reborn.
Most unexpectedly, he did not make India crave, or even miss, Kohli. It was a day India didn’t need Kohli. For they had Rahane. His batsmanship is different from Kohli’s, but the spunk he exuded was similar to Kohli’s. He was prepared to fight, and fight he did, from the first to the 200th ball he faced on Sunday. At no point in the game did he surrender the will to fight.
His composure in adversity and the shepherding of the lower-order were akin to VVS Laxman’s. Like the Hyderabadi virtuoso, there was an air of equanimity about him. Whether he was beaten or had scored a boundary, his expression remained the same. His ability to lift his batting when thrust with the captaincy was reminiscent of Steve Waugh.
Coming into the match, he had been far from fluent, but he fought his way out of trouble. He was not always easy on the eye, and he scrapped through the difficult phases of the game. In the end, he lifted the post-Adelaide gloom and passed a few milestones, too. He became only the second batsman to score two hundreds at the MCG.
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