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Rahul epic drives strong Indian reply

Wisden India logo Wisden India 18-12-2016
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For nearly four hours on the second day, India’s bowlers and fielders had suffered in the Chennai heat, as England’s last three wickets added 156 on a placid pitch. On Sunday (December 18), with a sizeable holiday crowd in the stands, India’s batsmen returned the favour, piling on the runs throughout the day.

Virat Kohli fell cheaply for the first time in the series, but spirits dampened by that were uplifted by a quite magnificent 199 from KL Rahul, his first three-figure knock on home soil. With Parthiv Patel (71) and Karun Nair (71 not out) playing their part in substantial partnerships, India finished a dominant day on 391 for 4, just 86 behind England’s 477 with two days left to play.

To have any chance of putting pressure on India, England needed to start well when India began on 60 without loss. But with Parthiv driving Stuart Broad down the ground and Rahul stepping out to loft Liam Dawson for two sixes down the ground, it was India that made the early running. Rahul got to his half-century in 96 balls, and then clipped Broad through midwicket as India’s openers put on a century partnership for the first time since Fatullah in June 2015.

Rahul continued to play some delightful strokes as the morning progressed, a lovely square-drive off Jake Ball and a stunning sweep from well outside off against Moeen Ali being especially eye-catching. Parthiv wasn’t idle either, flicking Ball to fine-leg before bringing up a half-century from just 84 balls.

Scores (Day 3): England: 477 against India: 391-4

India added 60 in the first hour, and Parthiv greeted Adil Rashid’s legspin with a fluent cover-drive. But having stepped out and chipped Moeen over midwicket for four, the encore looped up to point off the leading edge. Parthiv’s 71 had spanned just 112 balls, with the opening partnership worth 152.

Rahul employed the reverse sweep to great effect against Moeen, and with Cheteshwar Pujara pouncing on a couple of loose balls from Rashid, India went to lunch at 173 for 1.

Alastair Cook needed to pull things back, and he turned to Ben Stokes after the break. It worked. The ball was changed after three deliveries, and Stokes got the new one to reverse. One such delivery moved a touch, and Pujara got the edge playing well away from his body. At 181 for 2, the crowd summoned up its loudest cheer of the day.

Soon after, they were cheering again, with Rahul taking a quick single and then seeing the ball go for overthrows as he brought up his hundred in 171 balls. Kohli started busily enough, and was fortunate when he turned a Dawson delivery straight on to Keaton Jennings’s shin at forward short-leg.

But having scored at least 40 in every completed innings in this series, the law of averages finally caught up. Broad, on in place of Stokes, had bowled to a plan. Coming round the wicket, he got Kohli to drive uppishly to short-cover. This time, Jennings made no mistake. At 211 for 3, England had a glimmer of hope.

Nair had looked decidedly skittish in previous innings, and a lovely straight-drive off Broad would have helped settle some nerves, but the duo had to fight its way through a tough passage of play as England sensed an opening. Rahul, on 119, was struck on the glove and ribs by a Ball delivery, but showed no ill-effects as he stepped out and drove Rashid for four. At tea, India had moved to 256 for 3, with the run rate having been kept in check.

The 50-run partnership came up in 94 balls, and there was a flutter of alarm soon after as Rahul was nearly run out going for a second off Dawson’s bowling. For some reason, Jonny Bairstow failed to whip off the bails when the throw came in.

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Cook then turned to Joe Root, part-time bowling hero in Mumbai, and Nair said hello with a reverse sweep for four. When Root then whistled a throw to the keeper that nearly hit Rahul, words were exchanged, but even the advent of the new ball, taken after 84 overs, couldn’t change the narrative.

Cook put down a tough chance when Karun was on 34, after he edged Ball, and Rahul then cut Broad for four as the century partnership came up in 161 balls. Karun played a gorgeous drive down to long-on to bring up his half-century in 98 balls, and then survived a leg-before review on 69 off Moeen.

A precise sweep for four off Rashid took Rahul to 199, but when the next ball, way outside the off-stump, was sliced to Jos Buttler at point, Rahul sunk to his haunches in horror. It took him an age to walk off, and the applause for him segued into a rousing welcome for M Vijay, finally fit to bat.

The local hero showed glimpses of his class with a couple of delightful strokes, as India ended an 88-over day with 331 runs in the kitty, and the promise of many more to come.

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