Test: Rahane keeps India afloat after West Indies’ early inroads

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West Indies fought back late in the day after two half-century stands had taken India to relative safety following a fiery opening spell that had pinned the visitors to 25-3 inside eight overs.

Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul led the immediate fightback with a 68-run stand, and Rahane put on 82 with Hanuma Vihari as India dominated briefly in the middle session.

But Kemar Roach, the architect of the early collapse, returned to cause trouble with the old ball and, alongside opening partner Shannon Gabriel, helped reduce India to 203-6.

SCOREBOARD: https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/19430/scorecard/1188628/west-indies-vs-india-1st-test-icc-world-test-championship-2019-2021

However, the delicious ebb and flow of the game was cut short. Intermittent rainfall meant a 15-minute delayed start, an early finish to the last two sessions, and ultimately, only 68.5 overs of play. Left-handers Rishabh Pant (20*) and Ravindra Jadeja (3*), at the back end of India’s elongated batting order for this Test, were unbeaten at stumps.

India’s Ajinkya Rahane plays a shot against West Indies during day one of the first Test cricket match at the Sir Vivian Richards cricket ground in North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

The resultant moisture from the rain is what had prompted Jason Holder to elect to bowl, and his bowlers delivered immediately with a devastating opening spell. In a largely cloudy first hour, Roach was, by some distance, the bowler who bowled the fullest length and was rewarded for it.

With steep climb from a length, he pinned the openers to the crease, and it didn’t take him long to get one of them to poke with hard hands, although Mayank Agarwal had no choice but, against a ball holding its line after coming in. He got a thin outside edge, as did Cheteshwar Pujara four balls later. India’s No. 3 was rooted to his leg stump guard and pushing away from the body, although based on the off stump line, he too had little choice.

Shai Hope, stand-in wicketkeeper for the injured Shane Dowrich, had little trouble taking both those catches.

Virat Kohli of India takes evasive action during day one of the 1st Test between West Indies and India at Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium in North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda, on August 22, 2019. (Photo by RANDY BROOKS / AFP)

While nagging in the corridor did the job for those two, West Indies needed a little more brute force with Virat Kohli. Gabriel had been spliced through point and then driven down the ground by India’s captain, who, per usual, had looked India’s most confident batsman within minutes of arriving.

That was until Gabriel’s burst of three consecutive short balls. One had him hopping, one snuck under an early pull to hit him on his right elbow. Against the third, Kohli jabbed away from the body, lobbing one harmlessly for debutant Shamarh Brooks at gully.

Walking in at 25-3, Rahane showed immense restraint against a red-hot West Indies pace attack that greeted him at the crease with a short one into his mid-riff. At one point early in the day, Holder had bowled four consecutive maidens to him.

Shai Hope and Roston Chase of West Indies celebrate the dismissal of KL Rahul of India during day one of the 1st Test between West Indies and India at Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium in North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda, on August 22, 2019. (Photo by Randy Brooks / AFP)

He hung in with Rahul, another Indian batsman with a point to prove, and the pair made it past the opening hour. Both batsmen seemed to have made a concerted effort not to drive away from the body, a decision backing their myriad straight drives through the day. While not all of these drives produced runs or boundaries on a two-paced pitch, they seemed content in waiting it out.

They only gave themselves permission to expand their games in the second session, when the sun was out and there was no swing on offer. The first cover-driven boundaries came during this period.

But just as he looked like he had set himself up for a fifty, Rahul was caught sharply down the leg side by Shai Hope off Roston Chase. Rahul’s disappointment was visible as he walked off. With the chance to make a substantial overseas score gone in somewhat unfortunate circumstances, it wasn’t surprising.

One of the most stirring passages of the day came after tea. After an afternoon of figuring out the pace of the wicket, Rahane and Vihari began aggressively.

Off the second over of the session, Rahane dismissed a Roston Chase short ball and set off a ripple that carried into the next 30 minutes, with the two batsmen one would typecast into anchor roles scoring briskly. At one point, the session run rate was over seven per over.

Inside this phase was an over where Miguel Cummins had Vihari edge past second slip on the defense, beaten him on the straight drive next ball, and drew an edge that flew over slip off the next one as the batsman looked to cut a short ball.

They were possibly the best few minutes of Cummins’ day. The fast bowler struggled to hit consistent lengths and after being too short most of the day, was removed from the attack after his next over when Vihari drilled him down the ground.

But it was this change that eventually paid off. Roach and Gabriel were back bowling in tandem, and Vihari’s aggressive streak led to him opening the face slightly on a defense against Roach and edging to Hope, who took a dipping ball well in front with a dive.

Rahane’s three boundaries in the session had come with horizontal-batted shots, including a picturesque square drive on the rise against Roach. It was perhaps with this confidence that he chased Gabriel away from the body, on his toes to try and punch through the covers.

But in a similar manner to Kohli, he was through the shot too early as the pitch took some pace off the ball. He chopped on and kept his two-year wait for a Test century going. Rahane did, however, play the kind of innings for which India have continued to back him during his prolonged lull in form. (ESPNCricinfo)

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