It’s the sixth over on day two in the third Test between India and New Zealand. India have already wrapped up the series with two wins in the first two Tests, but there’s still a competitive edge.
New Zealand pacer Matt Henry, in his previous over, has been driven gloriously to the cover boundary by Ajinkya Rahane in what is probably the best shot played in the entire series.
A day earlier, Rahane – despite scoring a half-century – is troubled by the short delivery. Hit twice on his forehand, and surviving only thanks to some marvellous umpiring despite some rambunctious appeals from the fielding side.
It’s not that the Mumbai batsman is poor against the short delivery. Many Indian batsmen have struggled against it over the years, but Rahane is not one of them.
In fact, Rahane’s assault against Mitchell Johnson’s short-pitched tactic in the Boxing Day Test in 2014 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is still fresh in the minds of Indian cricket followers.
Back to the sixth over on day two – and we see Henry steaming in, perhaps frustrated that he hasn’t picked up a wicket despite some fine bowling over 22 overs.
The previous day’s events in the back of his mind, Henry bangs the ball in short. Rahane is up to the task and is in complete control as he pulls the ball masterfully to the square-leg boundary.
He is into the 90s.
Captain Virat Kohli, at the other end, shows his approval of the shot. Kohli, since taking over as the Indian Test captain, has often spoken about the need to be aggressive and there were sure signs of that here.
Henry isn’t bogged down though. He chooses to go around the wicket. The tactic is quite obvious now.
Another short delivery is bowled and this time Rahane offers to draw a different card from his deck. He decides to duck and leave the delivery, and watches carefully as the ball fizzes past, close to his helmet, to the wicket-keeper.
So far, so good for the Indian batsman.
The third ball, though, is a different story. Henry, continuing with an around-the-wicket tactic bowls another bouncer. Unlike the previous two balls, Rahane isn’t in control this time around.
The ball hits Rahane on his helmet and there are a few worried faces around; the Indian physio is called upon to check on the 28-year-old.
Rahane, though, doesn’t look too shaken by the episode.
On Friday, Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar had stressed that not showing any sort of weakness to the opposition’s bowlers is one of the most important aspects of batting.
“You can’t expose weaknesses. Once I got hit in the rib-cage. The bowler kept staring at me and I kept staring at him. It had become difficult to breathe but I did not show it. I knew it was broken, hit on the spot. But you never stop, you keep moving forward,” said Tendulkar.
Two days later, Rahane was doing exactly that.
Well played, Ajinkya Rahane. Man for all seasons, man for all reasons. Massive respect for the way he fought in this innings. #IndvsNZ— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) October 9, 2016
The fourth delivery of the over was another short one. Despite receiving the blow, Rahane wasn’t backing out.
A mistimed pull shot falls just short of Trent Boult at fine-leg. Boult does well to stop the ball from going for a boundary, but it’s interesting to see that Rahane calls Kohli back for a second run.
An easy second run was on, of course, but many batsmen would have definitely preferred to spend some time at the non-striker’s end after what had happened. Rahane is different, though, he wants to take on the challenge head on.
Depleted of short-pitched deliveries in the over, Henry is forced into bowling a delivery that doesn’t bounce above Rahane’s shoulders. Rahane takes a single and finally goes off strike.
Kohli hits the final delivery of the over for a four past point. The battle, though, was already over and his deputy had won.
Six overs later, Rahane has another Test century aside his name – his eighth in all.
The others were good, particularly the one on a green pitch at Lord’s which played a big part in India winning a Test on cricket’s hallowed turf. But few can argue that this century at Indore was the one that exemplified Rahane’s moral fibre like no other.
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