Chennai Test: Rahul's 199 heartbreak

K. L. Rahul dominated England with a 199, his highest Test score, on Day Three at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. Majorly in the company of Karun Nair, who scored an unbeaten 71, Rahul dissected the helpless English attack with an effortless innings interspersed with powerful strokes all around the wicket to entertain the big crowd that finally found its voice in the fifth Test.

K. L. Rahul sparkled on the third day.   -  Reuters

Perhaps the only potential threat to India’s run-making was the collection of heavy clouds on one side of the ground in the morning, but that too disappeared pretty soon to allow >K. L. Rahul to dominate England with a 199, his highest Test score, on Day Three at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. Majorly in the company of >Karun Nair, who scored an unbeaten 71, Rahul dissected the helpless English attack with an effortless innings interspersed with powerful strokes all around the wicket to entertain the big crowd that finally found its voice in the fifth Test. At stumps, India looked good, at 391 for four, to surpass England’s first innings score of 477, having likely avoided any reasonable possibility of a defeat.

Rahul went through various phases in his knock on Sunday, at times appearing to be itching to unleash his repertoire of strokeplay. He began his day with a lofted six straight behind left-arm spinner >Liam Dawson and repeated it minutes later, off the same bowler. After having negotiated without much difficulty a phase of consolidation when >Virat Kohli and >Cheteshwar Pujara had departed cheaply, he found equilibrium towards the end of the day against England’s tired attack. By this time, he was not only leaving well but also playing some stylish strokes as in the morning, the highlight being a flashy cut through third man off >Stuart Broad with an hour to go before close of play; the pitch was so slow that Broad’s pace was easy enough to attempt that cut.

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It could only be an involuntary lapse in focus, it seemed, that could have cut short his stay at the crease. That is what happened, when he spooned a catch to >Jos Buttler at cover off a delivery from >Adil Rashid that was full and wide. In a state of shock, Rahul sunk in a crouch before walking off. He had swept the previous ball for four to move closer to what would have been his maiden Test double-century. It was the 16th four of his innings, 13 of them scored on the day.

In the early afternoon, however, boundaries were not scored too easily. England’s spinners — Dawson, >Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid — did not look impactful enough, but resorted to bowling negative lines at the right handers. Singles and twos were consumed without much effort in this period, thereby preventing the run-rate from plummeting too quickly. With only six boundaries in the session of 26 overs, India scored 83 runs at 3.19 per over.

Leg-spinner Rashid created some excitement towards the end of the session, troubling Rahul with balls that spun past his outside edge, but then bore the brunt of punishment by Rahul and Nair. In a rare belligerent stroke in that period, Rahul skipped down the track to drive Rashid through extra cover for a four. Nair pounced on a short ball to collect a boundary through mid-wicket. It perhaps got the adrenaline flowing again and signalled the one-sidedness of the remainder of the day.

This was a return of the aggressiveness that marked much of the morning. After announcing his intent at the start of the day with a couple of sixes, Rahul punched Broad off the back-foot to collect another boundary. He was joined in his initiative by Parthiv Patel, who flicked the same bowler through mid-wicket. Rahul reached his half-century with a dab to third man, and then smacked Broad through mid-wicket for another four.

Parthiv earned a reprieve after Moeen had induced an edge off a ball that jumped. But it made no difference to the proceedings. The batsmen revelled in all kinds of shots — Rahul even attempted reverse sweeps — as runs flowed. Among the impressive shots was a square drive played by Rahul off Jake Ball. The bowler was also pulled by Parthiv soon after as the wicket-keeper reached his half-century and indulged in some more stroke-making. When Jos Buttler misfielded a ball struck towards him at cover, England's misery was clear.

But it was not so straightforward. After getting to his highest score in Tests — 71 — Parthiv attempted to work a deceptive delivery from Moeen to leg, but got a leading edge to be out caught at cover. Pujara kept the runs flowing with some confident shots, one of them a four to midwicket off a full ball from Rashid which he converted to a full toss by stepping out. However, Pujara was surprised by a short-of-a-length delivery from Ben Stokes which nibbled his bat on its way to the wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow.

This brought Virat Kohli to the crease amid loud cheers from a crowd keen to see him bat. But in an anti-climax, Kohli seemed to shut shop, mostly leaving or defending deliveries in a scratchy knock of 15. He was eventually undone by a slower delivery from Broad which he smashed straight to the hands of extra cover.

Though Nair was slow initially, he settled into a good rhythm with Rahul, to add 161 for the fourth wicket. He matched Rahul in elegance, be it in leaving balls outside off or playing drives. Among the prettiest shots of the day was played by him early in his innings, a drive off Broad back past the bowler for four. With half an hour to go before stumps, he even played a reverse sweep to collect his sixth boundary.

The wickets to fall were shared by the members of what was a toothless English attack in these conditions. Moeen and Rashid were the only ones among the spinners to create a few chances. But, while Moeen ensnared Parthiv with a wily ball, Rashid had nothing to show for his efforts. That is, until Rahul, towards the end of the day, gave away his wicket to Rashid in attempting an uncharacteristic shot.

In all, 244 runs were taken off England’s spinners in 64 overs, at 3.81 per over, as India announced its arrival in the contest in a most resounding fashion after being on the field for the best part of two days.