Ajinkya Rahane Begun Venturing Down Against Moeen Ali’s
Ajinkya Rahane had begun venturing down the wicket to smother Moeen Ali’s deliveries shortly after the tea interval on the fourth day at Lord’s. Cheteshwar Pujara, whose time-honored technique is to step down to off-spinners, approached his partner for a gloved punch.
They were the first signs of relief on the fourth day of the Lord’s Test after more than two hours of batting. India’s feet had become stuck in quicksand as a Test they’d dominated in the early going was slipping away.
KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma had suffered a rare defeat, their opponents were ruthlessly disciplined, and runs were scarce. It was up to Pujara and Rahane, two battle-hardened veterans with growing doubts in their minds, to hunker down for a grind.
They had only added 19 runs an hour into the second session, with the lead still only 48 and only the keeper, all-rounder, and lower-order to follow.
“It was all about hanging in there,” Rahane said. “The communication was all about thinking about the small targets and then build it from there. We backed each other. He told me to back my game, I told him to back his game, whatever methods he wants to go with on. I thought that communication was really good. We just wanted to build one good partnership. We knew 170-180 would have been very good to score on that wicket.”
When runs are the currency of progress, it’s difficult to support your stoic game of defiance. India did not have a large enough lead to play for time. In England, at least, the concept of a set batsman has been shattered by rapidly changing conditions and the swing-happy Dukes ball. Aside from the match, Rahane and Pujara were at a crossroads in their careers.
Backs-to-the-wall hundred at MCG
Rahane had scored a memorable back-to-the-wall century at the MCG, but his next 15 appearances at the crease had yielded only a single half-century. His jittery starts were exacerbated by his proclivity for operating in extremes: total defense or reckless counterattacks. On the other end of the spectrum,
Pujara’s last hundred was more than two years ago, his annus mirabilis in Australia, and despite at least nine half-centuries since, technical flaws had crept into his once impregnable game. Even in the ninth over of James Anderson’s spell, there was no letup.
Pujara went scoreless for 34 balls before a single off the 35th elicited raucous applause from the crowd. The Sunday Lord’s audience was a wonderful reflection of the beauty of his graft. Applause greeted his 83rd ball (10th run), 100th ball, 118th ball (first four), and 200th ball, when even a surprised Pujara looked up at the scorecard and smiled sheepishly.
“Cheteshwar, we always talk about him playing slow. But that innings of him was really important for us. I mean, he batted almost 200+ balls even though he got just 46 runs. I thought those 200 balls were really important for us,” Rahane said.
“I’m happy people are talking about me. I always believe people talk about important people. So I’m not too concerned about that. It’s all about contributing to the team. And Pujara and I’ve been playing for a long.
We know how to handle pressure. We know how to handle certain situations, so we are not concerned about them. We just wanted to contribute to the team and that’s what we are.”