India's Shardul Thakur (L) and India's Ajinkya Rahane walk off the pitch as they stop play for lunch on day 3 of the ICC World Test Championship cricket final match between Australia and India at The Oval, in London, on June 9, 2023. (Photo: PTI)
LONDON: Team India may be far behind Australia in the WTC final, but at least two batters tired to prove that no match is won until it is lost by one side. In a gutsy innings of gumption and grit, Ajinkya Rahane, on a remarkable comeback trail, showed what value he still brings to the side with a head as cool as that of fabled zen masters and a technique that is compact, temperament that is top class and strokes that carry a stamp of common sense application.
Rahane last played a Test in January 2022, dropped too soon for reasons unknown. He was surprisingly picked up by CSK - on Dhoni’s prompting that the senior batter could still be useful at the top of the order even in T-20 cricket - for next to nothing. Importantly, he was given a platform to prove that he was no spent force. The brain behind India’s astonishing revival from the depths of 36 all out in Virat Kohli’s captaincy, he rebuilt team spirit in one of Test cricket’s great comebacks, akin to India rising like a phoenix from the ashes against Australia in 2001.
In a century stand in which he seemed to be batting on a different plane on a pitch that was more up and down in bounce while still allowing substantial seam movement Rahane constructed a master class. Standing in with him in a resistance brigade of two, Shardul Thakur proved that the mind is the master even if the body had to take a battering in the conditions of uncertain bounce.
As fourth seamer and probably one of last two picks in the XI, Thakur had taken the wickets of David Warner and Steve Smith to prove his usefulness as bowler and then stood like a bulwark at the crease. His was a chancy innings, pummelled as he was by Cummins’ pace, lift and movement, with the forearms taking the worst punishment. He may have been so lucky as to make us believe he could have bought a lottery ticket, not in remote hope but with a fair amount of certainty that he is destined to land a prize.
Even as an old story abut Indian inadequacy in big matches was becoming part of a long narrative, hope was born that it could be a replay of the Australian Test tour in times of Covid with Rahane rewriting the script with a century in Melbourne. He fell 11 short at The Oval, that too to a remarkable catch by Cameron Green at gully, but he as given his colleagues a reason to keep their chins up and fight to the last and battle on to try and salvage a draw and a share of an ICC Trophy that has proved elusive for 10 years now.
Another cricketer in the Team India ranks who displayed fighting spirit in the style of the two batters was Md Siraj who bowled quite brilliantly to the left handers, inducing an edge with a wobble seam ball from stalwart David Warner’s bat too. But with the pitch showing more signs of eccentric bounce and spots developing at the Vauxhall End, Team India would have to fashion a miracle. The signs are they won’t go down without a fight.