Four overs remained. Four overs more to keep their nerve. Four overs more to hold their fort. Four overs more for Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to keep the Australians at bay. They had fought hard. Very hard. They had been at it for just over eight overs now. But this was intense pressure. The close of play still felt like an eternity away.
The SCG crowd was into it. More than 15,000 had turned up on the Saturday. Most had already started warming up for their weekend revelry here itself. They were roaring. They were cheering. They were clapping. They were creating a din every time a bowler would run up to bowl. Quaint little SCG had turned into a cauldron.
The Indian team sat huddled in the dressing-room balcony, each at the edge of their seats.
Just outside the Indian dressing-room — towards the nets — stands a statue of Stan McCabe playing a pull shot. Not far away from him sits one of Don Bradman. Bradman had once famously called the entire team to the front of the pavilion balcony and asked them to soak in the grandiose of a McCabe innings insisting, “You’d never again see batting to equal it”.
This wasn’t quite as dramatic. But Rahane and Kumar were not just fighting to save a Test. They were giving their all to ensure that a series that their team had fought with such fortitude doesn’t end with disaster. And Kohli & Co. sat applauding each front-foot defence, each backfoot prod and each ball as it passed by. The countdown was on in the Indian camp. The tension was at fever-pitch.
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This was a Test that had to be saved. A collapse on the final evening of the series would mean a 3-0 result and more importantly all the positives that India had garnered over the course of the series being swept under the carpet.
Rahane had already shown in the past 12 months that he could take on the meanest and the brawniest of the world and go toe-to-toe with them. That he was a pint-sized dynamite. But here it was a question of him keeping his cool. Playing straight. Playing close to his body. Playing the percentage game.
And running in with the ball was Ryan Harris. The man who Australia look to for the killer-punch in such situations. The first three were short of good length and pushed Rahane in his crease. He remained solid. He kept them out. Then Harris slipped in a slightly fuller one closer to the right-hander’s pads. Rahane was up to the task. Then came a short ball. Rahane pulled it with soft hands. The single was completed. On came Kumar. One more wicket would open the floodgates. Only Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav remained. But by now Kumar had kept out 23 balls.
He added a 24th this time. In many ways, the Test was saved. Or so it seemed. Three overs remained but Harris had been seen off. Mitchell Starc did provide a couple of uncomfortable moments to Rahane in the penultimate over of the innings. But the Mumbai batsman wasn’t deterred. The first one whizzed past his helmet as he played the first loose shot of the day, a waft. Then Starc hit Rahane on the shoulder with a bouncer that had him fending innocuously.
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Rahane had walked out in the 61st over of the innings. Murali Vijay had just fallen after a brisk 80 that looked to have kept India’s hopes alive of an unlikely win. He and Kohli then looked like they were on to something for a while. But then Kohli departed to a loose drive against a reverse-swinging delivery from Starc.
Kohli was dismissed with 23 overs still left. Suresh Raina and Wriddhiman Saha came and left. By the time R Ashwin was dismissed, the visitors had 70 balls to survive. The punt to pick Kumar would pay off. He might not have made much of an impression with the ball. But in England he had proved that he could hold one end up. As it turned out, he finished the SCG Test having faced over 100 deliveries.
Rahane at the other end finished unbeaten on 38. The runs were of no significance. He had batted 88 deliveries. That’s what mattered. You wouldn’t find two more mild-mannered men than Rahane and Kumar in world cricket. But here they had shown their inner strength. The resilience to keep their cool despite being trapped in a high-intensity pressure-cooker. The Test was saved. So was India’s pride.