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Rahul fifty wraps up hard-fought 2-1 series win for India

Wisden India logo Wisden India 28-03-2017
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The riposte was emphatic, decisive and telling, in a manner behoving of the No. 1 side in the world. Outclassed and outmuscled on a minefield in Pune a little over a month back, India put Australia firmly in their place in the most un-Indian of conditions at the HPCA Stadium.

Full scorecard: India vs Australia, 4th Test

An emotion-driven eight-wicket victory, brought up with a flourish by Ajinkya Rahane in his first Test as captain, helped the home side round off a season of plenty by wresting back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on Tuesday’s (March 28) fourth morning. The 2-1 series triumph was India’s fourth this season, this their 10th win in 13 games and easily the most satisfying, especially given that it was achieved in the absence of the injured Virat Kohli and on a surface that had more in it for the visitors than the home side.

Barring the extraordinary, an Indian victory was always going to be a formality after the heroics of their bowlers on the third afternoon. The target was only 106 and India had already lopped 19 off that modest number on Monday evening without losing a wicket. Even given the topsy-turvy nature of this Test – indeed this series – it would need a combination of exceptional bowling and extremely poor batting for the inevitable not to eventuate.

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With an expectant crowd cheering them on, India started the morning brightly, weathered a mini-wobble when they lost two wickets in the same Pat Cummins over without the addition of a single run, and then sprinted to victory. Rahane warmed up for the IPL starting in a little over a week by lighting up the day with audacious strokeplay that Steven Smith, his Rising Pune Supergiant skipper, must have watched with mixed feelings.

Australia should have come hard through Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, instead they opened proceedings with the latter and Steve O’Keefe, the left-arm spinner. It suggested that for all the fight they have put up throughout the last five weeks, Australia didn’t believe they had a ghost of a chance, despite the cloud cover that should have encouraged their quicks.

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Rahul immediately stamped his authority with flowing strokes on both sides of the wicket even as M Vijay looked horribly out of sorts, especially against Hazlewood. But by the time Cummins was brought on in the day’s sixth over, India had already eased to 40; Cummins should have had Vijay’s number with his first delivery when the opener gloved him down the leg side, but there was no more than a half-token appeal that found no favour with Ian Gould.

Vijay’s misery, however, wouldn’t last long. In Cummins’s next over, he tamely followed a delivery that held its line to Matthew Wade, but 46 were already on the board and there were few alarms.



But this has been a fascinating Test match where the only thing predictable has been its unpredictability. Cheteshwar Pujara, calm and composed and who hasn’t even heard of the word ‘hurry’, inexplicably ran himself out looking for a non-existent single after a stop-start routine with Rahul that Glenn Maxwell pounced on to score a direct hit. Pujara, India’s highest scorer this series, had failed to tickle the scorers, and at 46 for 2, there must have been a few nerves in the dressing-room. It was the first time in 50 innings at home that Pujara was dismissed without scoring.

Out came Rahane, and immediately assumed the role of the aggressor even as Rahul went a little bit off the boil. One gorgeous off-drive off Cummins was followed by a disdainful pull over midwicket off the following delivery, and India were purring again. It was as if the pull knocked the stuffing out of Australia; whatever hope might have been ignited by two strikes in six deliveries dissipated in quick time. Cummins tried to bounce the Indian captain out, and Rahane responded in kind like he had at the MCG in December 2014, pulling with certainty and conviction even as Australia began to read the writing on the wall.

In a final throw of the dice, with 35 needed, Cummins went round the sticks to try and unsettle Rahane. The first ball was clattered deep into the stands behind midwicket. The next elicited a more brutal response as Rahane backed away, and clattered him over cover and into the crowd. It was exhilarating stuff. It was also the kind of finish India would have expected to a series where they have been severely tested, but where they have also dug deep and channelled their inner desire and hunger.

Gradually, Rahul’s fluency too returned and it was in the fitness of things that, as the clock ticked over to 10.52 am, he brought up the winning runs with an elegant whip to midwicket. The brace took Rahul past fifty for the sixth time in seven innings this series, and India to the finishing post. Done deal, just 82 minutes into day four. Champion stuff, champagne time.

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