India skipper Ajinkya Rahane hailed his team’s character on Monday after they clung on for an unlikely draw in the third Test against Australia, saying the result felt like a win.
Few gave India much chance when they began the day at 98/2, having lost openers Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma the previous afternoon and facing one of the world’s leading attacks.
And when Rahane fell without adding to his overnight four in Monday’s second over, the odds were even worse with another 309 runs needed to win. But they battled hard as Rishabh Pant smashed a high-class 97 and the stoic Cheteshwar Pujara ground out 77.
When that pair fell Hanuma Vihari, nursing a hamstring injury, survived 161 balls for 23 runs and Ravi Ashwin, who had treatment on his ribs, made 39.
The pair faced 256 balls and scored just 62 runs, helping steer India to 334/5 and safety at the close. The four-Test series stands at 1-1 ahead of the final game in Brisbane.
“This was as good as winning a Test match,” said Rahane. “When you come abroad and play a match like this, it was really special, as good as a victory.”
What satisfied him most was the fight his team showed. “Our talk coming into this morning was to show character and fight till the end. Not to think about the result,” he said.
“So really happy with the way we fought especially today but also throughout the game, even in the first innings when Australia were 200 for two and getting them all out for 338 was really good.”
The resilience shown by Vihari and Ashwin, coupled with Pant’s fireworks, were major pluses for Rahane, particularly after the captain fell cheaply.
Pant was moved up to to number five ahead of Vihari to have the left-right combination with Pujara, a tactic that paid dividends.
“We had that strategy and it paid off. Credit to him (Pant) going out at five, the way he counter-attacked, the way he managed his innings throughout the day was really good to see. We know he can win a game for us from any situation, we have that belief and I think he is improving.”
“And Vihari was batting really well. The last few Test matches, unfortunately he hasn’t been able to get those big scores,” Rahane added.
“But today, that knock was really special. To show that motivation, to show that hunger, to hang in there for your team was really good and that’s what we want from each and every individual – to show that character on the field.
“Credit to Vihari, Ashwin, Pant, (Cheteshwar) Pujara, the way they batted. Rohit (Sharma) at the start. Everyone chipped in but credit to those two guys in the end.”
Pant, who has received criticism in the past few months, came good on Monday with his exhilarating 97-run knock and the skipper couldn’t have been happier for him.
“The way he played the knock was really good and unfortunately he was out on 97. Yes, he can drop catches but as long as he is learning, that is very important. I am really happy for Rishabh for the way he batted today. It was a really special knock.”
Pant was promoted to No 5 on the day and Rahane gave him credit for executing the plan to perfection.
“As captain and team management, you can make strategies but it’s upto the individual to execute that plan. Rishabh did that for us. The way he counter-attacked was really good to see and about Rishabh’s character, we know that he can actually win the game for us in any situation. We had that belief, he is improving day by day as a cricketer,” he said.
Rahane said that once both Pant and Pujara were dismissed, the team decided that it will go for a draw considering Vihari had injured his hamstring.
“The way Rishabh and Pujara were going, we needed to take one session at a time. After Rishabh and Pujara got out, unfortunately Vihari had that injury and because of that, he had to play a certain kind of role. As I said earlier, this is as good as a victory for us.”
The captain did admit that during the final few overs, they were literally counting each delivery in excitement.
“Last five or six overs we were counting down (deliveries). Apart from that, we were all sure about Ashwin’s ability and how good he is as a batsman,” he said. “The message during the tea break was to take one over at a time, let’s not think too far ahead and in the last five or six overs, we were counting each and every delivery.”
While he didn’t answer queries on Steve Smith trying to allegedly create footmarks with his spikes, he did speak about his disappointment with racist abuses hurled at his teammates on days three and four.
“We have lodged a complaint and I spoke to the match referee and umpires whatever I had to speak, whatever happened is not acceptable at all and shouldn’t happen anywhere in the world and we were upset about it,” said Rahane.
(With inputs from AFP and PTI)