For one minute short of four hours, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli made the future of Indian Test cricket look very bright indeed. For the two hours or so either side, the rest of the touring side confirmed why that future is still some way short of being realised.
A hot and occasionally hot-tempered third day at the MCG had numerous fluctuations. First Australia prospered with a pair of early wickets to hasty strokes from Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay, and later they did so again through Nathan Lyon’s persevering spin and a sharp spell of reverse swing from the admirable Ryan Harris.
But its centrepiece was a stand of 262 between Rahane and Kohli, a union that was both substantial enough to leave Steven Smith wondering where his next wicket was coming from but also swift enough to keep open the prospect of an outright result in this match, which India must win to stay in contention for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Rahane set the tone of the partnership, skating past 30 at better than a run a ball to shift momentum away from Australia. Kohli was a little more collected, but carried on beyond the loss of his partner and other members of India’s exceedingly collapsible tail to 169, his highest Test score. It was not until the last over of the day that Kohli fell, his edge clasped by a diving Brad Haddin.
The second exceptional Haddin catch of the day contrasted with some rather indifferent fielding by Australia through mid-afternoon, when at least three chances went down. Nathan Lyon missed the gentlest of return catches from Rahane in the final over before the second new ball became due, and after Mitchell Johnson took it an edge from Kohli’s bat was grassed by Shane Watson, diving to his left and into territory commonly reserved for Haddin.
Australian frustration with the Rahane-Kohli partnership was illustrated when Johnson fired a return at the stumps and caught Kohli in the lower back – words were exchanged at other times, and any visible acknowledgement of the Indian pair’s hundreds could best be described as low key. They were more generous to Rahane upon his departure, and Kohli was applauded by all sections of the ground as he led the players off at stumps.
Pujara had seemed unusually eager to see bat on ball, and from Harris’ second ball of the morning he aimed an uncharacteristic cut/glide to a ball he would have often left. The edge was thick and Haddin flew through the air, the milestone dismissal among his more spectacular, atoning for dropping the same batsman the previous evening.
Kohli was greeted by some fast stuff from Harris and Mitchell Johnson, but it was Vijay who was struck by the latter on the helmet with a short ball that reared up in defiance of an easy-paced pitch. Vijay shrugged off the blow, though its proximity to the rear of his head and neck made for a queasy replay viewing.