For the second time in 2023, KL Rahul walked out at no 5 with his side in trouble and he once again managed to bail India out in a tricky run-chase.
Earlier in January, his 64*(103b) had helped recover from 62/3 to chase down 215 against Sri Lanka at Kolkata. If that didn’t earn him enough plaudits, his 75* (91b,7×4,1×6) on Friday in Mumbai surely would.
Rahul combined with Ravindra Jadeja 45* and their unbeaten 108-run partnership helped India get past Australia’s 188 in 39.5 overs on a Wankhede wicket that was giving the pacers some generous assistance. India now lead the three-match series 1-0.
Rahul arrived in the middle with India in trouble at 16/3. Mitch Starc was firing on all cylinders on a wicket, which under lights, made the modest-looking target appear like a tall order. Earlier in the day, Mohammed Shami had delivered a mean spell of seam bowling but Starc was able to produce an even more purposeful spell with the new ball.
STARC’S FIERY SPELL
Looking to defend a small total, Starc meant business from the word go. The left-arm quick was able to extract movement in the air and off the wicket. All of this while bowling a yard quicker than Shami. That’s how he troubled Shubman Gill, repeatedly testing his outside edge.
With Ishan Kishan being dismissed early, the stage was set for a battle royale between Virat Kohli, fresh off his 186 in the Ahmedabad Test, and Starc, who had his tail up. The left-armer squared Kohli up with one and the former India skipper could only nod in admiration.
Starc delivered another one, full, fast and swinging in. Kohli played all over it. He didn’t even bother to review the lbw call. Suryakumar Yadav was sent back to the dressing room, the next ball lbw, with one that was a fraction shorter. By this time, the near-capacity home crowd was completely silent. Towards the end of Starc’s opening burst (6-0-24-3), Gill too lost his battle, failing to keep a drive down and being caught by a flying Labuschagne for 20.
RAHUL-JADEJA’S PATIENCE GAME
From 39/4, the Rahul-Jadeja partnership took over. Australian captain Steve Smith wanted to keep the pacers on for as long as possible but the batters showed that they were prepared to wait out the period and take risks against spin instead. It was smart cricket by two cricketers who have been around for a long time.
It was only after Starc’s second spell had been seen off around the 30th over that Rahul began to cut loose. For both Rahul, who didn’t have a Test series to remember and Jadeja – he also picked up 2-46 and a sharp catch too – who’s marking an international return with this Australia series after a long injury layoff, this effort would be satisfying at a personal level.
The Australian batters had come out in the afternoon sun expecting a wicket that would be good for batting. They stacked their team with batters and adopted a gung-ho approach.
Opener Travis Head and Smith fell early. But Mitch Marsh, opening the batting for the first time in ODIs was successfully using the long handle. As soon as India introduced spin from both ends, Marsh began hitting through the line. For around 6 overs, he found the ropes with a fair degree of ease. But just as he was threatening to coast to a hundred, Jadeja floated one wide.
March top-edged the attempted big hit to short third on 81 (65b, 10×4, 5×6). Then, Jadeja produced a moment of magic on the field, foiling Labuschagne’s (15) effort to cut Kuldeep by taking a diving catch to his wrong side at short third. Australia, reduced to 139/4, attempted to mount a recovery but Shami had other ideas.
SHAMI’S SECOND SPELL
Shami needed no second invitation when he saw the wicket. It’s the pacer’s second spell that did more damage than his first.
Australia, on 161/4 in 27 overs, had enough wickets in hand to bide their time before going after the bowling but Shami didn’t give them the opportunity to do that with a spell of 3-2-8-3. Their batting depth was left exposed by good old-fashioned bowling by India’s evergreen seam and swing exponent. He found the perfect and Australia had no answers to his genius.
After being struck for a six, he removed Inglis on 26. He got one to nip back a fraction and the batter dragged it back onto the stumps. When you have seen that from the other end, and you find one pitching on a similar length with a similar release, you could believe it would come in too. That’s how Cameron Green tried to play Shami. But with his trademark upright seam, Shami produced a peach that held its line and took Green’s off stump.
Shami then got Marcus Stoinis in the next over to leave Australia reeling at 184/7. Australia was bowled out for 188, 87 balls short of the 50 overs mark.