India vs Australia: KL Rahul stars as Team India level three-match series 1-1
India produced a much-improved allround performance on Friday to avenge their humiliating defeat in the series opener and draw level with Australia. The 36-run win has now set up a mouth-watering decider at Bengaluru on Sunday.
The hosts’ triumph was built around their imposing total of 340 after KL Rahul displayed his versatility coming down at No 5 and blasting a spectacular 52-ball 80, which became the deciding factor.
Backed by a vociferous Rajkot crowd at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, India cleared the test of character after being crushed by 10 wickets at the Wankhede Stadium three days ago. Opener Shikhar Dhawan laid the foundation with a 90-ball 96 and back in his familiar position at No 3, Virat Kohli, played another sublime knock of 76-ball 78.
But the performance of the innings came from Rahul, who later took two catches behind the wicket and stumped Aaron Finch, as India bounced back. With the cushion of extra runs, India’s spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, came into their own and struck twice each to snuff out Australia’s chase.
After Jadeja sent back Finch and Marnus Labuschagne, Yadav dismissed Alex Carey and the well-set Steve Smith in the 38th over.
Smith had kept the chase alive with an innings of 98 (102 balls, 9 fours, 1 six) before he was played on. Marnus ‘Test sensation’ Labuschagne made 46 (47 balls) on his ODI debut and put on 96 with Smith for the third wicket before holing out in the deep off Jadeja.
Shami had set the tone for India’s defence, by removing dangerman David Warner for just 15. He returned to take two more in his eighth over.
Earlier, Rohit Sharma and Dhawan provided a strong start with an opening stand of 81 after being put into bat. With Kohli scoring a breezy 76-ball 78, the foundation had been laid. But at 249/3 in 40 overs, there was still a lot of work to be done. India had Rahul to thank for the late fireworks that pushed the total close to 350.
In the first ODI, the opener had to come in at No 3. Here Rahul was pushed further down to No 5. From his job of consolidation, he faced the challenge of playing the finisher’s role here. Rahul responded with a scintillating 52-ball 80, receiving rave reviews for the way he batted out of his comfort zone and adapted to the situation. It provided proof that he was getting to the level of the top three in the line-up.
Most importantly for India, the Bengaluru batsman neutralised the impact made by leg-spinner Adam Zampa who bowled superbly, and an equally strong effort from pacer Pat Cummins. The leg-spinner prized out Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer to underline his ability to bowl against the best players of spin. Cummins also bowled his heart out on the docile wicket. The burly fast bowler gave nothing away in his first eight overs, and only some brilliant hitting by Rahul in the penultimate over of the innings saw his runs conceded column bloat to 50 plus.
India’s top-order looked determined to cash in on the docile track. But, Zampa bowled with precision. Brought into the attack, in the 12th over, he provided the breakthrough when Sharma looked to attack him in his second over. A ball before, the India opener went down on one knee and smashed him through the midwicket fence. But when Sharma tried to follow it up with a sweep, he was trapped in front.
Kohli was straightaway into the battle against Zampa. Their contest started with a flighted delivery which Kohli crisply drove to the covers to open his account. The early nerves were settled with a glorious drive off Cummins for his first four. And in the following over of Zampa, Kohli hit another boundary when the leg-spinner tried to bowl a googly but pitched it short. After being dismissed four times in ODIs by the leggie, the India captain was careful to not make the mistake of trying to force things. He chose his shots well to complete a run-a-ball half-century. While Kohli was fluent, to Zampa’s credit he didn’t allow the India No 3 to break free. The moment Kohli tried to open up against the leggie, he perished. His lofted shot in the 44th over, didn’t clear the fence and Ashton Agar relayed the ball before going over the ropes for Mitchell Starc to complete the catch. It was the fifth time Zampa got Kohli. India were 276/4.
To the packed house’s delight, Rahul, who till then was content to play second fiddle to his skipper, took charge. He shifted gears effortlessly. With Starc to bowl three of the last five, the visitors would have been fairly confident of restricting India. But Rahul waded into Australia’s best death bowler. In the 46th over, he started the onslaught with a booming hit into the stands over cover; 15 runs came off that over. Rahul brought the house down again in the second last over by Cummins by launching him into the stands past backward point to finish with six fours and three sixes.
India’s only sore point was that their middle-order faltered again with Shreyas Iyer bowled for seven and Manish Pandey out for two.