India were trailing by 68 runs in the first innings with two wickets in hand at stumps on Day 3 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Ajinkya Rahane’s (147) superlative batting performance and Virat Kohli’s carefully compiled innings had kept India in the fray. However the end of the 262-run stand triggered a batting collapse in the last session of the day. With four wickets falling in quick succession Australia were back in the reckoning. And with Kohli departing in the last over of the day for 169, India were 462/8 at the end of day’s play with Mohammed Shami batting on nine.
The Kohli-Rahane partnership was the key to the shift in fortunes for the better part of the third day after Australia had dominated for the first two days. After the visitors lost Cheteshwar Pujara and the inform Murali Vijay in the first hour of day’s play, the pair joined forces to script India’s revival. Coming together at 147/3, both batsmen scored centuries and added 262 for the fourth wicket at a brisk pace to saw off the deficit.
Rahane, the dominant partner in the stand clinically decimated the Australian attack en route to 147, his highest score in Tests. Replacing Vijay in the middle, he changed the pace of the innings with a fluid batting display. He was on song from the word go as he drove and pulled the bowlers confidently. He increased the run-rate and eased the pressure off his partner and the team in the process. Kohli, who had come to the crease before him, too was driving the ball with determination as he worked to pull India out of the corner.
Kohli struck Mitchell Johnson through gully to bring up his half-century before lunch. Scoring at over four runs-per-over the pair had added 77 runs in quick time to take India to Lunch at 224/3. India had garnered 116 runs from the session keeping the match hanging in balance courtesy the Kohli-Rahane pair which had ensured that India don’t succumb to the Australia bowlers.
Early into the second session Rahane continued to regale the spectators with his sublime batting display. He pulled a short ball from Josh Hazlewood over deep square-leg to reach 49. And a bit later with a single to mid-wicket he brought up his half-century off just 60 balls with panache.
However, the second session was not without its heart stopping moments. Looking to drive Nathan Lyon, Rahane was dropped by the spinner while on 70 in the over before the new ball was taken by the hosts. Kohli too got a couple of reprieves. While on 88 he edged Johnson to the first slip but was let off by Shane Watson. And in the bowler's next over his miscued pull presented another opportunity for Australia, but fortunately for Kohli, Haddin didn’t reach it in time.
Meanwhile Rahane who whipped the bowlers and found the gaps as he scored at a quick pace edged past his partner. A bit later he smacked Watson over gully to reach the three-figure mark with a boundary ahead of Kohli. Rahane stood up to the challenges unfazed by the short pitched balls or the pressure of the mountainous task. Short balls were scored-off mercilessly as Josh Hazlewood found out. Rahane took one on the body but hooked the next one from the pacer to the boundary.
The new ball brought no respite to the hosts as Rahane and Kohli made their way through it. Kohli who had done the hard yards too reached his hundred with a four through extra cover off Nathan Lyon. Garnering 112 in the session, the Kohli-Rahane pair took India to 336/3 at tea.
The fourth wicket partnership was taken to the 200-run mark by Kohli with a four through square-leg. The batsman slammed three successive boundaries off Johnson as India launched a counter-attack in the last session against short pitched bowling. In the speedster’s next over, Rahane whacked Johnson thrice to fence as he went past his previous Test best of 118.
In addition to the boundaries, the pair’s running between the wickets kept the scorers busy as they ate into the deficit. The prospering partnership ended with the departure of Rahane. Looking to sweep Lyon, the batsman was trapped lbw with India 121 short of the Australian total. Debutant Lokesh Rahul then joined Kohli in the middle but perished looking to sweep Lyon but only managing to top-edge it. Dropped on the previous delivery he was back in the dressing room for three.
MS Dhoni was the next to return to the pavilion after contributing 11 to the total. Kohli continued to hold up one end with support from Shami looked to take India to stumps. However, in the last over departed edging Johnson; Haddin took another diving catch to end the batsman’s magnificent knock.
With a hundred run deficit Kohli carried on. He slapped Watson through midwicket to reach 150 with yet another boundary. But, the middle-order batsman was in the danger of running out of partners as Harris took a superb return catch to claim Ravichandran Ashwin for naught and leave India on 434/7.
Earlier in the morning, Pujara’s attempt to bisect the first slip and the wicketkeeper was foiled by Brad Haddin, who took an outstanding catch diving to his right. And 39 runs later Vijay departed edging the ball to Shaun Marsh in the slips bringing to end a watchfully compiled innings.
Peppered by a few short pitched deliveries the opener had taken a couple of blows as he laid a platform for India, but his resistance was felled by Shane Watson early on the third morning.
Debut: KL Rahul for India and Joe Burns for Australia
End of Day 1: Australia 1st inn 259/5 in 90 overs (S Smith 72*, C Rogers 57, S Watson 52, M Shami 2/55, U Yadav 2/69)
End of Day 2: Australia 1st inn 530 all out in 142.3 overs (S Smith 192, R Harris 74, M Shami 4/138, R Ashwin 3/134); India 1st inn 108/1 in 37 overs (M Vijay 55*, C Pujara25*, R Harris 1/19)
End of Day 3: India 1st inn 462/8 in 126.2 overs (V Kohli 169, A Rahane 147, R Harris 4/69)