Indian skipper Ajinkya Rahane lavished praise on Hanuma Vihari for playing a ‘special knock’ that helped the team salvage a draw, and claimed that the right-hander’s 23* today was better than his ton against the Windies. After blowing his hamstring, Vihari batted 161 balls injured to salvage a draw.
India fielded what many felt was their best batting combination in the third Test in Sydney, but one batsman who came into the Test under severe pressure was Hanuma Vihari. Averaging in the low 30s and coming on the back of scores of 16, 8 and 21 in the first two Tests, Vihari was under-fire to perform, particularly having retained his place ahead of Mayank Agarwal. A run-out in the first innings of the third Test compounded his problems, and a drop seemed imminent when he pulled his hamstring midway through Day 5, with India needing to save the Test.
However, with the odds stacked against him, the Andhra Pradesh batsman went into a trance and produced a knock of a lifetime. Surviving on one leg, Vihari remarkably survived 161 balls, batting alongside Ashwin, and ended Day 5 unbeaten on 23 to seal the most remarkable of draws for the visitors.
The 23* could very well turn out to be career-turning for Vihari, and speaking of the right-hander’s performance, skipper Ajinkya Rahane labelled it a special performance better than every other knock the 27-year-old has played.
“We knew Vihari was batting really well. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t get those big scores, but today we all saw a special knock. I thought his knock was more special than his hundred,” Rahane said in the post match press conference.
“The way he batted after he got injured - to show that motivation and hunger, to hang in there for the team, that was really good. That’s what we want from each and every individual - to show that character on the field. Credit to him and the way he handled himself. There was pressure, yes, but the way he managed his batting and injury, it was really special to see.”
After having lost Rahane in the second over of the day, a defeat for India seemed inevitable, but exceptional performances from Pujara, Pant, Vihari and Ashwin helped the visitors salvage an improbable draw. In fact, at one point, with Pant firing, it looked like India were aiming for a win, but Rahane said that the team were flexible in their approach and took it ‘one session at a time’.
“The way Rishabh and Pujara were going, we knew that we had to take one session at a time and not think about the target. Yes Rishabh and Pujara batted well for us, but after they got out, unfortunately Vihari had that injury, because of which he had to play a certain kind of role. As I said earlier - this is as good as a victory for us.”
While Vihari adhered to a ‘block everything’ approach, the opposite was done by young Rishabh Pant, who struck an impeccable 118-ball 97. Pant, in his knock, took the attack to the Australian bowlers and disrupted their rhythm, thereby making life easier also for Pujara, who was being put under constant pressure. Rahane asserted that Pant brings an x-factor to the middle-order.
“Definitely (Rishabh Pant is an x-factor). We know that he is a quality player, and that left-right combination was very crucial for us. I thought especially today, after being promoted to No.5, the way he played counter-attacking cricket was really good. Unfortunately he got out on 97 but that was a crucial knock from a team’s perspective.”
Pant, in a way, made amends with the bat after a poor performance with the gloves, dropping multiple sitters on the very first day of the Test. Rahane, however, downplayed the mistakes, and asserted that all that mattered was for Pant to learn and improve from the drops in the future.
“Anyone can drop catches but as long as you’re learning - as a wicket-keeper or a cricketer or a fielder - that is very important. But i’m really happy for Rishabh. The way he batted today, it was a really special knock,” the 32-year-old said of Pant’s keeping.
India’s victory at the MCG was termed by coach Ravi Shastri as a historic win, but while the Men in Blue quite did not manage a win, the SCG draw is already been spoken of as one of the greatest performances of all time. Rahane termed the draw on Monday ‘as good as a win’ and credited all the players who directly influenced the result.
“This is as good as winning a Test match. When you come abroad in a match like this - it was really special. It was as good as a victory. Credit to Vihari, Ashwin, Rohit, Pujara and Rishabh Pant and the way they batted. I think everyone chipped in for the team’s cause, but credit to those two guys in the end who actually almost two and a half hours in the end.”
The third Test ending in a draw means that the teams are still level at 1-1. The series decider will be played at the Gabba from January 15.