The Miracle of Melbourne

To be a leader isn’t just to wear the captain’s armband, but also to lead from the front. Ajinkya Rahane put these words where his mouth is to breathe life into a series that seemed decided after just one game.

Rahane raises his willow after reaching his century | Source: India TV

At 4-116 on the second day of the second test, this match, too, seemed to be following a similar script to so many games before. India bundles out the opposition for a low score, and then the batsmen let the team down, and the bowlers have to once again begin from square one. This team had been all but written off after the horror show at Adelaide. 36 all out was India’s lowest-ever total in a test match, and not very far off from becoming the lowest total ever - this had been the only saving grace.

To nobody’s surprise, the media had already started with the character assassination, Virat catching ire more so than others for “abandoning” his team after a soul-crushing defeat. Everybody’s credibility was being questioned, and people who couldn’t hold a bat were now questioning the mental fortitude of elite athletes who held a spot in an 11-man team in a country of a billion people. In these situations, it is best to block out all the external noise and focus on what’s next - those were the exact instructions of Ajinkya Rahane, the team's captain in the absence of Kohli. If he wanted the team to respond to his words, he couldn’t have chosen a better way to make them believe, even if he tried.

Before the series, Rahane’s spot had been in question. Off-late, his form had dipped considerably. His average now having dropped to the 40s, it was getting harder and harder for him to keep holding onto a position in the team, especially as the vice-captain. Responsible for running Kohli out before he reached a century in the last game, he wasn’t particularly hot with the fans either. But what he did at Melbourne couldn’t help but win the fans over.

When he took to the crease, the score read 64-3. Not a pretty look for a team trying to make a comeback. Then it was 116-4, better but not really great. At 173-5, Rahane had more than stabilised the innings, but with Pant gone, he was the last specialist batsman left. And for the next forty overs, he and Jadeja gave the Australian bowlers absolutely nothing. There weren’t any flashy shots, just pure determination and grit. Rahane was being hit everywhere, but he’d just put on more pain relief spray and continue. He even had to take two breaks because of his back, but not once did he lose concentration.

After a streaky start, he brought up what was only his twelfth century - but the most important and masterful he had ever made. This time he was the victim of a bad call by his batting partner, getting run out with the score being 294-6. The job, however, was already done. India took a 131-run lead, and the Australians could only muster up 200 runs in response, leaving them just 70 runs to chase. Rahane had just become the author of one of the most memorable comeback scripts in cricket, and Sydney awaited them next.

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