North Sound (Antigua), August 23: Ajinkya Rahane played one of the most defining knocks of his international career as India recovered from early setbacks to post 203 for 6 against the West Indies on a rain-hit opening day of the first Test here.
Rahane silenced his critics with a much-needed 81 on a pacer-friendly track even as the likes of skipper Virat Kohli, Chesteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal found the going tough on the pacer-friendly wicket on Thursday.
Only 68.5 overs of play was possible as inclement weather led to multiple interruptions on the first day of the match, a part of the World Test Championship.
Coming into the match, vice-captain Rahane's career seemed to be at crossroads due to consistent failures, but the 163-ball knock has given him a new lease of life.
Rahane's innings, that was studded with 10 boundaries, was the saving grace in an otherwise disappointing day for the Indian batsmen, who struggled against the seasoned new-ball pair of Kemar Roach (3/34 in 17 overs) and Shannon Gabriel (2/49 in 15 overs).
Roach with his movement off the pitch and Gabriel with his ability to extract disconcerting bounce reduced India to 25 for 3 within first eight overs with opener Agarwal (5), No 3 Pujara (2) and team's best batsman Kohli (9) all back in the dressing room.
Rahane had a couple of useful partnerships -- 68 for fourth wicket with opener KL Rahul (44 off 97 balls) and 82 for the fifth with Hanuma Vihari (32 off 56 balls) which put the innings somewhat back on track although they aren't still out of woods.
However, all three batsmen were guilty of throwing away their wickets after getting set. Especially, Rahane who was desperate to get his 10th Test hundred and first in more than two years.
It was extra bounce generated by Gabriel that brought about the Indian vice-captain's downfall as he dragged the ball back onto the stumps trying to play a square cut.
On a day when Rahane completed 10,000 runs in first-class cricket along with 18th half-century in Tests, he gave a good account of himself in the post-lunch session with some delectable drives and deft touch play, something he is familiar with.
However, he looked all circumspect during the first session, after coming on to bat in the eighth over itself. Till lunch, it was Rahul, who was doing the bulk of the scoring as he hung in at the other end scoring only 10 runs till the first break.
Once Rahul was smartly snapped down the leg-side by wicket-keeper Shai Hope off Roston Chase's bowling at the start of the post-lunch session, Rahane seemed to open up.
A square and straight drive off Gabriel and a cover drive of Roach signalled his intentions. Although he should consider himself lucky after a mistimed lofted shot off Chase was dropped by Miguel Cummins, who tried latching onto the catch running backwards from the mid-on position.
To add insult to his injury, Rahane got a double off Cummins to complete his half-century.
The stylish right-hander found it easy to play on the rise. He also hit a lovely backfoot cover drive off Chase.
Young Vihari also grew in confidence watching his senior partner as he also punished the loose balls to collect five boundaries.
But as it has been throughout the day, just when it seemed as a big partnership is in the offing, India lost Vihari to Roach, who bowled a fiery third spell with old Dukes.
In the morning session, it was Rahul, who held fort after skipper Kohli was done in by bounce fending a short delivery to gully and Pujara defeated by movement off the pitch.
At 25 for 3, it could have been worse but a determined Rahul put his head down and left a lot of deliveries outside off-stump as Rahane also defended stoutly at the other end, waiting for Roach and Gabriel's first spell to end.
It was only when back-up pacer Cummins came into operation that Rahul collected three of his four boundaries -- a cut and a couple of off-drives.
Rahane termed his 68-run stand with Rahul to be a crucial one in the larger context of the match.
"At the start of our innings, the wicket was tricky. It was a bit sticky (spongy bounce) and there was sideways movement. Throughout the day, they bowled pretty well.
"What was important was to have a partnership going and still be positive in our intent. The partnership with Rahul was crucial at that situation. We were not thinking too far ahead. The motive was to play one ball at a time and take it on from there," Rahane said after the day's play.
He also lauded Vihari for lending him support after Rahul's dismissal.
"Vihari is a guy who has got lots of runs in Ranji Trophy and first-class cricket, and he knows how to bat in these situations," he said.
"So all these guys, who play a lot of India A games know how to bat in these conditions in five-day games. So I thought Vihari's approach was pretty good, not only here but even in Australia.
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