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Ajinkya Rahane stood alone, sculpting a milestone of rare class while all around him wickets fell like a pack of cards. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at one of the most memorable hundreds at Lord’s.
A hundred at Lord’s is always special.
The ground carries with it the emblem of the home of cricket, Old Father Time watches from the top of the Mound Stand. The picturesque pavilion building looks on, with members in their blazers and MCC ties. The space age JP Morgan Media Centre is an anachronism, but the rest of the arena oozes all that is pure and traditional about cricket. Even the infamous slope has an ageless appeal, a throwback to those days when grounds were not chiselled to perfection, man was still a slave of the inconsistencies of nature and landscape.
Dilip Vengsarkar, three times centurion at the Mecca of Cricket, once wrote that on his first visit to the stadium, he just wanted to go out there and score one run. Just one.
And in this ancient venue, Ajinkya Rahane’s innings sparkled like a precious gem as India’s innings fell around him in a scatter of debris. It was a knock fit for this grandest stage, etched with élan to pay homage to the purity of the turf, to stand tall in front of Father Time who has witnessed the greatest of them for many many years now.
It was composed, it was compact, it was classy. And it was chanceless. The wickets fell like ninepins; the innings was one blow away from disintegrating. The Mumbai batsman stood through it all, with hardly an expression of concern in his visage or willow. The bat remained straight, the face displayed to the bowler without any compromise in favour of a closed blade. The leaves were based on soundest judgement. The extravagant swing was negotiated with a degree of expertise rare in cricket, unique in the Indian team. The drives were all timing, the cuts essayed with elegance.
When Liam Plunkett bounced with many men on the fence from square leg to long leg, he threaded the gaps with nonchalance and languid grace. When James Anderson pitched up with the No 10 batting at the other end, the willow was brought down straight, the follow through was full and rich, the ball’s flight was high and soaring, ending beyond the boundary just in front of the members who sat in rapt delight. Even when pulls were essayed while eyeing the boundary, caution thrown to the wind, the balance hung in favour of finesse rather than force.
One passage of play bore the essence of his batsmanship. Stuart Broad ran in after tea, one man stationed at mid-off. Twice the ball was over-pitched and twice the drive rang out. Twice the strokes went straight to mid-off. Broad, worried by the timing and pedigree, pleaded with his captain for a man in cover. Alastair Cook relented. In ran Broad again, and pitched it up. Rahane’s bat flowed with flourish, the two men at cover and mid-off bisected with mathematical precision, and the ball raced away down the slope. It needed an additional impetus of challenge to inject an element of mastery into the brilliance. The same was the story of the innings, a rescue act scripted with patience, poise and panache in the face of the most demanding of crises.
It was with the new ball that Anderson ran in when Rahane burst into that explosive spree of stroke-play. He pulled twice, lofted the paceman over his head, and in the end reached his hundred with a backfoot drive through the covers. The bat was straight as ever as he held the stroke, before it reached for the sky. The helmet came off and Lord’s stood up to him. The silence of the JP Morgan press box, thus far punctuated by the occasional appreciation of some of the most delightful of his strokes, was broken as claps were heard in unison.
It was a knock that won the ground over.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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