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Ajinkya Rahane blinks and Australia swoop

It started with Kohli's disastrous run-out, followed by the incisive work of Starc and Hazlewood with the second new ball

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
With 13.1 overs left of the Australian summer's first day/night of Test cricket, India appeared to be on course for a truly outstanding beginning to their defence of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, before an Adelaide Oval crowd that, denied the usual expanses of "village green" to luxuriate in "out at the back of the members" due to Covid-19, watched even more intently than usual.
Virat Kohli was well set, his lieutenant Ajinkya Rahane had done little wrong, and Tim Paine's Australians appeared to be paying a high price for a handful of minor miscalculations across an otherwise diligent shift with the pink ball.
In his only Test of the series, Kohli had sculpted what was already a minor masterpiece, the embodiment of discretion to avoid anything hung wide of the off stump in search of edges he had given up to Pat Cummins and others in previous red-ball series, before gradually building momentum as he reached the outskirts of a century he would doubtless have treasured highly.
What transpired over the ensuing period, starting with Kohli's disastrous run-out then backed up by the incisive work of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood with the second new ball, underlined how the fine margins of Test cricket create so much drama, and the changing conditions of a day-night Test have the chance to add to its richness.
These events also demonstrated how the Australians have become so masterful in pink ball matches at Adelaide Oval, switching up the gears when required in the manner of many a great side from the past. It must be said, though, that the late show beamed into Australian homes on the east coast between 9.30pm and 10.30pm Sydney and Melbourne time was one the hosts needed to make the most of, given some of the doubts surrounding their makeshift top order.
Unusually for an Australian summer, but in tune with the many rhythms disrupted by Covid-19 in 2020, the build-ups of both teams had been dominated by white-ball encounters. From Australia's limited-overs tour of England and the IPL to the three ODIs and three T20Is bumped to the start of the schedule, there had been many weeks of bowling wide yorkers and slower bouncers, or swatting sixes and shaping up switch-hits.
At the same time, the preparation of Adelaide's bespoke surface for a pink ball, complete with "thatchy" grass covering and an agreeably verdant green drop-in wicket block, had been very much constrained by the playing of a group of Sheffield Shield matches down Memorial Drive at the Karen Rolton Oval. Rather than getting a couple of domestic games with which to perfect his formula for the season, the curator Damian Hough had a Covid-safe Christmas Pageant to host, and then three days of centre wicket practice by a portion of the Australian squad.
As a result, the pitch offered plenty of bounce but perhaps a little less pace than the Australians were used to. Certainly, this was evident in the way a series of edges failed to carry to Paine or the slips, starting with one from Cheteshwar Pujara in the first over of the match, after Starc had burst through Prithvi Shaw's rickety defence. Not all of these dying nicks could be totally attributed to the soft hands of Pujara, Rahane or Hanuma Vihari - the Australian cordon may well need to inch a little closer to the stumps this week.
Similar instances of cues not quite taken were evident in how the pacemen drifted fractionally short of where they needed to be against Kohli, allowing him to leave rather too many deliveries after Cummins had provided a better template with his artful set-up to bowl Mayank Agarwal after a stubborn stay. Cummins pushed Agarwal and Pujara back with his usual short of a length on a Spartan line, but then pushed fuller with a wobbling seam that burst between Agarwal's bat and pad.
To Kohli, however, the hosts seemed content to restrict his scoring and await a mistake, something that looked increasingly unlikely to occur the longer he stuck around. There was the whiff of a missed chance to dismiss Kohli when he might have very gently touched Nathan Lyon down the legside into Paine's gloves. But neither the captain nor his childhood cricketing offsider Matthew Wade, well within earshot at short leg, could be sure enough to review.
What ultimately was needed was the maintaining of focus, something the Australians largely did, and a brief loss of concentration, something Rahane regrettably offered when he called for a run to Hazlewood's left at mid-off, only to reverse his decision when he saw the fast bowler was neither slow nor clumsy in getting to the ball and sending a return in perfectly to Lyon at the non-striker's end. Rahane's exasperation was clear in his reflexive f-bomb and immediate apology to Kohli, but the damage had been done.
"Massive. A wicket like that or a run-out especially of Virat was massive. So it's good to be back on the board after the Ashes, so I was pretty stoked with that," Lyon said, referencing his infamous missed run out at Leeds during the 2019 Ashes. "It did [come into my mind] after Josh ran up to me saying he's back, he's back. There was a bit of banter thrown around out there, but the massive wicket of Virat Kohli..."
To burn an infinitely promising Kohli innings and also open an end to the second new ball in the same moment were dual sins that may well haunt Rahane for the remainder of the tour, given it will be his task to captain the tourists once Kohli has gone home.
But he and India will not be completely without hope - in Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, they have pacemen of more than enough class to trouble the Australians should they get a chance to bend the pink ball under the lights that make Adelaide such a compelling theatre for this new twist on the old game.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig