Rahane revels after turning full circle
Ajinkya Rahane, the only centurion so far in what has been a tough series for the batsmen, had to fight memories of his last Test in Delhi - his debut when he played two nervous shots to get out for 7 and 1. He was subsequently dropped for India's next two Tests. Since then he travelled the world for 17 Tests without a single absolute failure of a series.
Just when it looked this series - ironically at home - might be his first big failure in long-form cricket, Rahane came up with a century to rescue India from 139 for 6.
"It is a very special hundred for me because I made my debut in Delhi against Australia," Rahane said. "So I had a few things in my mind. Those memories against Australia. I was pretty determined to bat well as I knew that I was batting really well in the series. But it was important to spend time in the middle and later on look for a big innings. So really happy for the hundred but especially for the partnerships, which I got with [R] Ashwin, Virat [Kohli] and [Ravindra] Jadeja. That took us to 330."
Discounting the one day's play that was possible in Bangalore, this pitch provided the most even contest between bat and ball, which made Rahane's contribution extra special because a below-par total could have given South Africa a whiff at a consolation win. However, it wasn't that easy a surface.
"Shot making was not easy but once you are set, you decide that you are not going to get out," Rahane said. "It was difficult for bowlers to get batsmen out. Saw that our bowlers bowled good discipline and patience. For bowlers, it is important to show patience and bowl in right areas but as a batsman, I feel spending time in the middle, taking my time, playing normal cricket, rather than play attacking shots. Not easy for shot making, not difficult as well."
Rahane said he gave himself more time in the middle before venturing out to play his shots. "First two Test matches, I was looking to play shots initially and that's why I got out," he said. "I knew I was batting well in the series. Spending time, during a net session. Talking to Sanjay Bangar and Ravi bhai [Shastri], they said you have just got to take your time initially, play one ball at a time, if you are 25 to 30 your instincts will take over. I mean when I was batting I just wanted to stay blank, just play one ball at a time. Build a partnership with the batsman [at the other end]. I feel really special that I batted with Ashwin and got my hundred."
Ashwin and Jadeja have been key to India's success in the series, and not just with the ball. India's lower order has been a source of major frustration for South Africa. In the first innings in Nagpur, India last four wickets added 90 runs; and in the second, the last three gave India 45 runs. "That's a good sign, when you know your lower order is batting really well," Rahane said. "If guys at 8, 9, 10, 11 can contribute then opposition's morale goes down. Batting with Ashwin was really important. Communication was just play normal cricket. Ashwin can bat as he has got two hundreds. Important to build a partnership."
This is not the first time Rahane has stitched together important runs with the tail. India's last Test win outside Asia, at Lord's, was built around a similar hundred in testing conditions. "When we were 139 for 6, I was recollecting those memories as even at Lord's we were 142 for 7 [sic, 145 for 7]," Rahane said. "Same situation. I was just thinking to just communicate with other batsmen and back my instincts.
"When Ashwin came in, I just told him that if the ball is there to be hit, I will go after and back my instincts. I think the response from him was crucial. He was really positive from his end. He said you can bat whatever you like and however you like. Playing here was really special and those memories from Lord's innings came handy here."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo