Stand-in India captain Ajinkya Rahane has filled Virat Kohli’s imposing shoes in impeccable style with his 12th Test century lifting the tourists to an 82-run first-innings lead over Australia in the second Test.
Leading his country for the second time in Tests, Rahane’s unbeaten 104 – the first century of the series – allowed India to move past Australia’s total of 195 at stumps on the second day of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Rahane was put down twice, first on 73 and on the final ball of the day as rain stopped play after Travis Head dropped a simple chance.
India will resume on day three at 277-5, with Rahane and allrounder Ravindra Jadeja (40 not out) to go about further punishing Australia while trying to level the series at one-all.
Rahane’s patient innings was not without luck, surviving multiple scares en route to his second best Test score against Australia.
The 32-year-old has a liking for the MCG, with his only previous triple-figure score against the hosts coming at the famous venue in 2014.
Australia captain Tim Paine was left ruing his decision not to have a first slip after lunch as Rahane edged a ball right between the wicketkeeper and second slip that flew away to the boundary.
Mitchell Starc, who earlier became the ninth Australian to take 250 Test wickets, should have had his third scalp of the match when he steamed in with the second new ball.
But with Rahane on 73, Steve Smith inexplicably dropped a regulation catch in the slips to continue a miserable match for the world’s No 1 Test batsman.
Smith’s surprising missed opportunity summed up Australia’s end to the day, with the hosts putting in a flat final session after a 15-minute rain delay.
It is a remarkable turnaround in eight days after India’s bid to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was seemingly doomed following their record-low of 36 all-out at Adelaide Oval.
Combined with the fact Kohli, one of the game’s greatest batsmen, will take no further part in the series, India were barely given a hope heading to Melbourne.
India’s four inclusions have all played major roles in the revival.
Jadeja’s assured batting at No 7 has allowed stability down the order, while wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant (29 off 40 balls) played an entertaining cameo as he combined with Rahane for a vital 57-run fifth-wicket stand.
Debutant Shubman Gill survived two dropped catches, including one in the second over of the day off Josh Hazlewood’s bowling, but captain Tim Paine did make up for the blunder behind the stumps.
Paine’s catch to send Gill (45) packing was regulation, but his brilliant effort to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara two overs later will be replayed for the rest of the summer.
Australia’s fast-bowling brigade of Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood toiled hard but poor fielding cost them dearly.
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