Substitute skipper Ajinkya Rahane used his luck to reach an undefeated century when India built an ominous 82-run lead over Australia on the second day to take absolute control in Test 2 in Melbourne on Sunday.
It was a decisive and crucial blow against a world-class attack by the mild-mannered 32-year-old, who assumed the captaincy from Virat Kohli after returning home for the birth of his first child.
At four, he faced 200 balls for 104 to bring India to 277 for five before rain ended the game 15 minutes early. Ravindra Jadeja was not out of 40.
The hosts took just four wickets during a frustrating day on the field as the match began to slip away with India focusing on leveling the series after losing the first test by eight wickets in Adelaide.
“It’s not our best day, but it’s not our worst either,” said Australian Mitchell Starc, who has two wickets but also saw trapped in his bowling alley.
“Jinx (Rahane) hit very well during the day there and they had good relations.
“I thought there were also very good things on our part, we just didn’t take advantage of some of the opportunities we created to finish in a better position.
“We’re going to have to go back tomorrow and take five wickets as fast as we can.”
While Rahane was the hero, it was a brave performance by the Indian team, with three associations of more than 50 wickets to help silence their critics after being knocked down by their all-time low of 36 last week. Rookie Shubman Gill contributed an impressive 45 and paid tribute to Rahane.
“His blow had to do with patience. Sometimes against such a high-quality bowling attack, you get into your shell and then you can’t score runs, ”he said.
“The way Ajinkya played, it was such a magnificent shot to watch, the way he saw the tough periods and fumbles that he made sure to save them all.”
On a hot day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, India resumed 36 to one in response to Australia’s first 195 innings, having surpassed 11 overs on Saturday when they lost Mayank Agarwal by a duck to Starc.
On an action packed morning, the Aussie attack consistently hit its line and length with Pat Cummins pocketing Gill and then the experienced Cheteshwar Pujara by 17.
That brought Rahane to the fold and, first with Hanuma Vihari, then Rishabh Pant and finally Jadeja, he built half-century bleachers to put India in a strong position.
He got his 12th test ton in his 67th game, and his second at Melbourne, on a Cummins four, but enjoyed good fortune.
Australia eliminated the first slip during Starc’s first spell in the final session and lived to regret it with Rahane gaining a lead at 57 that almost certainly would have been caught if the fielder were there.
He took a big casualty at 73 when Steve Smith dropped him on the second slip and again at 104 when the ball left Travis Head’s hands when he landed after receiving the catch.
Jadeja, back on the team after missing the first test injured, deftly supported Rahane after Vihari fell for 21 trying to sweep Nathan Lyon, with Smith taking the catch.
That brought the lush Pant to the fold. Preferred to Wriddhiman Saha as a wicketkeeper, he scored a breezy 29 before becoming Starc’s 250th victim, captured by Tim Paine for his 150th firing.
India was down to 64 by three before lunch after Cummins caused all kinds of trouble. He signaled his intention with the first ball of the day, which passed over Pujara’s bat. Paine asked for a review, believing he needed a nickname, but replays showed that it was not available.
Cummins finally got the wicket he deserved when Gill, who added 17 to his score overnight, got a nick and Paine took the catch. He then took out Pujara, again drawing an advantage with Paine holding a brilliant dive catch.