Cricket-Rahane comes back from test wilderness to give India hope in WTC final

By Pritha Sarkar

LONDON (Reuters) – Ajinkya Rahane came agonisingly close to marking his return from test wilderness with a century in the World Test Championship (WTC) final on Friday.

While he missed crossing three figures by 11 runs – his knock proved to be the standout performance in an otherwise forgettable Indian innings where only three batsmen scored more than 15 runs.

If India manage to stave off defeat in a match where the world’s top ranked team have been outplayed by Australia with both bat and ball, it will be largely down to the contribution of a man who until recently had been considered to be surplus to India’s requirements.

Since making his last test appearance 18 months ago, former Indian vice-captain Rahane fell out of favour with the selectors and only made the WTC cut due to Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant being sidelined due to injuries.

But the 35-year-old proved he was no spent force as he stuck around for hours under a blazing sun, playing his 83rd test with an injured finger, while team mates at the other end were quick to come and go.

Despite the daunting task facing India, with Australia still having six wickets in hand as they look to set a huge target after ending day three with a 296-run lead, Rahane still held out hope that India could turn things around.

“Frankly speaking, Australia is slightly ahead in the game,” Rahane, with his injured finger plastered, said pitchside at The Oval.

“We need to think in the moment, play it session by session. We don’t want to think too far ahead. Tomorrow, the first hour will be very crucial.

“As a bowling unit, if you do well, anything can happen. We know funny things can happen in this game, it’s all about staying in the moment and believing in our ability.

“I still feel this wicket will help seam bowlers.”

Both teams opted for four-pronged pace attack for this final but it is the Australian quartet of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Scott Boland and Cameron Green who have generated more pace and bounce from the pitch – claiming nine Indian wickets between them and causing the opposition a lot of pain – both physically and mentally.

Shardul Thakur (51) took some body blows to his arm from successive Cummins deliveries in Friday’s morning session, and Rahane admitted India fell short of their target.

“The partnerships with (Ravindra) Jadeja (48) and Shardul were crucial. We were looking to get 320-330, but overall I think we had a good day,” Rahane said.

With Australia finishing the day on 123-4 in their second innings, Thakur was at pains to point out that it was not yet a lost cause.

“You can never say what is the right total… who can handle the pressure better out there – one good partnership and you can even chase down 450 or maybe more than that,” said Thakur.

“Last year England chased 400 here… so that’s a positive sign. We see a lot of times in test cricket that the game changes within an hour. We like to be optimistic tomorrow going on the field.”

(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, additional reporting by Aadi Nair, editing by Christian Radnedge)