Batting second, when the opposition has put up a big score on the board, is never easy, especially when that opposition is Australia, with a couple of world-class fast bowlers in the lineup and two spinners who already have tasted so much success in this Test series raring to go.
However, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay did quite well, first to dent the early new ball attack and see India through to Tea, before batting together for the majority of the final session of day two of this third Test in Ranchi.
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The first task for the openers was to make sure that no wicket fell in the eight overs that needed to be played before the Tea break.
Having bowled out Australia for 451, which isn't too bad on this benign track, India needed to ensure that the momentum, whatever there was, was on their side, and having all wickets intact at the break – especially with Virat Kohli not padded up and clearly not ready to bat today – was key to that.
Rahul and Vijay did that without too much fuss, with the former, again, looking quite good from the off, hitting the ball off the middle of the bat and getting that boundary-thing going along nicely.
Vijay was a lot more circumspect, but the Tamil Nadu man, returning to the team after missing the second Test through injury, found his rhythm slowly but surely in the final session – getting the sweep shots out to the spinners and making sure he trusted his defence.
Rahul was scoring at almost a one-day strike rate, pounding, caressing and driving the ball to the boundary, and while there were a couple of edgy moments in there, for the most part, the right-hander was right on top of the Australian bowling.
Pat Cummins, playing his first Test match in six years and given the no-small task of replacing Mitchell Starc, did his best, bowling at a good speed, getting a few shorts ones in there as well, but the India batsmen were more than up to the task, in that first spell of his with the new cherry.
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Josh Hazlewood looked more dangerous when he came back for his second spell and got the ball to reverse both ways, but again, Vijay and Rahul did what they had to do to survive that particular test, even scoring a few runs, when the ball tailed-in a little too much to the legs of the batsmen.
Considering how much Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin toiled on this wicket, it was always going to be difficult for Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe to be effective, and so it proved, with the India batsmen untroubled by the off-spinner and left-arm orthodox.
India looked set to go into stumps on day two without any damage done, but Cummins, in his second spell, and bowling with plenty of venom and guile, struck with a rising delivery, that Rahul (67, 102b, 9x4) could do little but glove through to the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade – Rahul, who has now scored four half-centuries in this series, again falling without converting it into a century.
Cheteshwar Pujara was the No.3, and after the right-hander negotiated a charged-up Cummins, India eased into stumps without too many worries.
First innings: Australia: 451 all out in 137.3 overs.
Overnight score: 299/4 in 90 overs, stumps day one.
India: 120/1 in 40 overs at stumps on day two, trail by 331 runs.
Batting in the middle: Murali Vijay (42, 112b, 6x4) and Cheteshwar Pujara (10, 26b, 1x4).
Bowling: First innings: Australia: Josh Hazlewood 9-2-25-0; Pat Cummins 10-1-22-1; Steve O'Keefe 10-3-30-0; Nathan Lyon 11-0-42-0.
Fall of wickets: First innings: India: 91/1, KL Rahul (31.2 overs).
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