A clinical India today regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, beating Australia by eight wickets in the deciding fourth Test here to clinch one of the most controversial and hard-fought bilateral contests in recent times. It was India’s seventh Test series win in a row — continuing the dominance that started in 2015 with Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, England and Bangladesh being annihilated.
Needing 87 runs on the fourth day to reach a modest victory target of 106, opener Lokesh Rahul (51 not out) dominated from the start with a flurry of boundaries and finished with six half-centuries in the series. The match ended in just three days and a session, a reflection of India’s distinct upperhand in the 2-1 triumph.
There were some hiccups when Murali Vijay (8) and Cheteshwar Pujara (0) were out in quick succession but stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane (38 off 27 balls) came in with the intent of hammering the bowlers into submission.
Rahane and Rahul added 60 runs for a third wicket partnership which took the team to victory in 23.5 overs. Fittingly, Rahul finished the match with a hard-run three and celebrated wildly. Regular skipper Virat Kohli, who sat out of the contest due to a shoulder injury, and the rest of the Indian team gave Rahul a standing ovation.
In fact, Rahul ran in towards the Australian dressing room before taking off his helmet and letting out a wild war cry — an indication of how intensely the series had been fought. But putting aside the hostilities that started with the infamous ‘Brain Fade’ of rival captain Steve Smith, the two teams shook hands at the end of an aggressively-fought series.
Rahul’s innings of 76 balls had nine fours while Rahane hit four boundaries and two huge sixes of Pat Cummins. It brought the curtains down on a very productive home season in which India won 10 out of the 13 Test matches with two draws and the only defeat coming on a Pune dust-bowl against Smith’s side.
The victory was even more special as skipper and team’s premier batsman Kohli was unavailable in the deciding contest.
A reticent Rahane, completely different in character from Kohli, marshalled his resources well in what could be termed as the best out of the 13 Test wins. More so because the conditions were more Australian than Indian and the home team punted on rookie Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, risking a batsman less in the playing XI.
The day started with a Rahul back cut off Josh Hazlewood followed by a square cut. A swept boundary off Steve O’Keefe set the tone for the day and an imperious pull shot off Hazlewood showed why Rahul is rated so highly.
Once India were 46 for 2, Rahane came in and showed uncharacteristic aggression, taking on the bowlers from word go. Cummins was pulled and then slashed over the cover region for a couple of sixes, leaving the entire Australian team stunned. A paddle sweep off Lyon by Rahane was a delicate one after the brutal assault he unleashed on the speed merchant. It was probably the most competitive series that India played at home in recent years with not an inch given by the visitors.
The Australians managed to surprise with their resolute performance given that they didn’t have a lot of experience of playing in the sub-continent save skipper Steve Smith and opener David Warner, who was terribly out of form.For India, a massive gain to be drawn from the victory is the team’s resolve in the absence of batting mainstay Kohli.
Kohli’s injury-forced ouster from the Dharamsala Test gave an opportunity to test how the side performs in an adverse situation and the home favourites did not disappoint. That India won the series despite minimal contribution from Kohli’s bat also speaks volumes of the temperament of some of the youngsters in the team.
The takeaway certainly would be Cheteshwar Pujara’s lion-hearted batting. He scored 405 runs with a hundred and two half-centuries and averaged 57.85. But Rahul stamped his authority as the most exciting Indian batsman of recent times with 393 runs at an average of 65.50.
“It was a fantastic series especially after the disappointment of the first Test,” Pujara said at the end of the match.
“We probably wanted to win 3-1 but we are happy with 2-1. The way the fast bowlers bowled in the second innings was fabulous. We have been having good partnerships. I just told Rahul that we don’t want to lose wickets in the first session on second day even if we didn’t get runs.
“We knew if we didn’t lose wickets, we could score big. The run rate was not that important. I would like to keep going if there were a few matches. I really enjoyed this home season, and hope to continue next season,” Pujara added. Rahul said that after the Pune Test, he curbed some of his natural instincts to go for expansive shots.
“After Pune, I knew I couldn’t play my shots. It was a big restriction. I love to play my shots, dominate the spinners, but I had to play a different game. Pretty disappointed that I couldn’t convert, but right now nothing else matters,” an elated Rahul said. Rahul did face a barrage of short balls from Pat Cummins, a few hitting his body but he is a content man.
“Here I took a few knocks on the body. All I was telling myself was to take a few hits for the team. I don’t know what else was running in my mind. “The way Jinks (Rahane’s nickname) came out and started hitting Cummins for sixes was fantastic. He just came out and said ‘I am going to dominate’,” the opener said.