There is no better place for to perform like I did: After having a wonderful home series against New Zealand late last year, followed by another excellent one against England early this year, Team India was on ‘cloud nine’ with them being ranked No 1 Test Team by ICC.
Australians came calling for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2017 and Indians were meant to drub them 4-0 and claim back the trophy.
After drawing a two-day tour game against India A, the two teams locked horns for the First Test at Pune.
Winning the toss and electing to bat, the visitors put on 260 runs on the board in their first innings with just the opener Matt Renshaw (68) and pacer Mitchell Starc (61) posting half-centuries and some meaningful scores.
For India, Umesh Yadav picked up 4 wickets and Ashwin finished with 3 scalps.
The Indian batting line-up on paper looked rock solid right upto No 10 and were expected to pile up a huge score.
However, the ground realities were completely different. None of the Indian batsmen could counter the left-arm spinner, Steven O’Keefe, and meekly surrendered. Indian batsmen who came with the reputation of being the ‘best players of spin’ were no match for the guile of O’Keefe.
It was just the opener, KL Rahul, who succeeded in putting up some sort of resistance and successfully scored 64 valuable runs out of the team’s first innings score of 105 runs.
Taking a lead of 155 runs, the Aussies managed to notch up 285 runs in their second knock, giving a target of 441 runs for India to be achieved in a play of 8 sessions.
India failed for a second time, wickets falling like nine pins. Lasting only for 33.5 overs the innings came to an end with just 107 runs on the board. India lost the match by a whooping 333 runs.
O’Keefe again picked up a six-wicket haul, ending with the match analysis of 28.1-6-70-12, being the second best performance by any bowler of a visiting team.
This was the worst batting performance by Team India in the last two years and it was just Rahul who made a significant impact.
The focus shifted to Bengaluru for the second encounter. The venue, M Chinnaswamy Stadium, being the home turf of young Rahul, the youngster had to prove a point.
India won the toss and elected to bat. With Vijay being ruled out due to injury, the left-handed Tamil Nadu batsman, Abhinav Mukund joined Rahul at the top. Mukund, who had returned to Test cricket after a hiatus of five years, had very little to contribute.
Pune performance seemed to follow Team India in Bengaluru also. The batsmen squarely failed to stay put at the wicket and build up partnerships.
If it was O’Keefe who bothered them at Pune, it was the off-spinner, Nathan Lyon who tormented them at Bengaluru.
One man who bravely stood and took on the Aussie onslaught was the young Lokeshwar Raul who played a very patient innings. He made batting look so simple while his team mates were struggling to ‘get bat to the ball’.
Playing an innings of 289 minutes, facing 25 balls, he scored a well-made 90 runs with the help of 9 boundaries. His third Test half-century in his 24th appearance came in 105 balls with 8 fours.
Holding on to one end and keeping the score board ticking while the other end kept on losing wickets, Rahul, in the 72nd over of the innings, with just two wickets on hand, tried to accelerate the scoring. Looking to cover drive an off-break delivery from Nathan Lyon, saw the ball take the top-edge of his bat, hit his shoe and then ballooned up an easy catch to Renshaw.
His was the ninth wicket to fall at the team score of 189 runs in their first innings. The young man had done his job with very little support from the other batsmen and walked back to the dressing room to a standing ovation from the audience and his team mates.
Returning back for the second knock, Rahul brought up his fourth Test half-ton in his 25th innings which came in 82 balls with 4 fours. He scored 51 runs.
Rahul’s contribution has been very significant in the four innings, thus far. He has been able to provide a suitable response to the Aussie bowlers, be it spin or pace, while his other team mates found it difficult.
The positive contributions with the bat by KL Rahul, Pujara and Rahane saw Team India put up a target of 188 runs for Aussies.
Indian spinners, Ashwin (6/41) and Umesh Yadav (2/30) made sure that India romped home and level the series 1-1, going into the third encounter.
Speaking at the post-match presentation ceremony, Player of the Match, Rahul said, “There is no better place for to perform like I did. After that first loss, to come here and do what we did is really really special. We have achieved a lot but this win for a young team will be really really special. I have played all my cricket here. I told them if we get 150 lead we will win by 30. We knew the third day was the best day to bat on, and the approach from us was brilliant.
There was a time they said when I get past 20 I get a hundred. That was a problem. Now if we get just fifty, that is a problem. On a serious note, I was disappointed. Openers need to get big runs. This was a disappointment but now that we have won, that disappointment is gone. My shoulder gets quite sore, I can”t dive, and I have to restrict a couple of shots. It is not such a bad thing. I can bat within myself. I am enjoying batting with the problem”