1st Test: India take tea with lead of 101 after KL Rahul, Murali Vijay fightback
After a watchful start, KL Rahul opened up to drive India's lead. (Image: ICC)

The first 50-plus opening stand between KL Rahul  and Murali Vijay outside of India put the visiting team in command over Australia on a rain-hit third day at Adelaide Oval, where by tea the lead was 101.

Both fell to loose shots after putting in the hard yards – how long these two will last in the squad remains a major question – but handing Virat Kohli the cushion of a lead of nearly 100 can be viewed as progress. Kohli has Cheteshwar Pujara for company, which is good news for India who are 86/2.

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After Mohammed Shami nipped out Travis Head and Josh Hazlewood in successive deliveries in his first over of a stop-start morning, thus handing India a lead of 15, the openers had to wait a while before the second session began. After a watchful first 40 minutes, Rahul opened up with some fine shots and dominated a stand of 63 in 18.2 overs with Vijay (18). On 44, however, one airy drive too many saw him edge Hazlewood to Tim Paine.

The players had barely stepped onto the field after the innings break when drizzle forced them off and lunch was called. With a slender lead, Rahul and Vijay negotiated a tricky passage on a pitch on which plenty of water had fallen. A tasty contest ensued, which the openers won while adopting a watchful approach – something they had failed to accomplish on day one – before flourishing.

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One purring drive into the covers for two off Mitchell Starc aside, they got scant opportunities to come forward and play with ease. Starc and Hazlewood tempted them both with repeated balls angled across, some very inviting, but the openers resisted the urge to smash them into the offside. Short balls were slipped into keep Rahul and Vijay wary, and clever changes of pace on a tricky surface had them playing off the back foot a lot. Rahul appeared intent to leave most away-moving deliveries, a conscious decision no doubt after a year littered with faulty drives and wafts. Vijay shouldered arms confidently and defended with a straight bat.

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Six runs came in four overs. After eight, both openers had faced 21 deliveries. Rahul had one run, Vijay three. Hazlewood started with four consecutive maiden overs, Starc conceded four runs in his four. The sight of Pat Cummins produced the first aggressive shot of the innings, an airy drive from Rahul into the covers for three. The first boundary off the bat came in the tenth over when Rahul again went aerial but timed it better over extra cover.

The confidence grew with that shot, as evidenced by a booming drive that connected with air and then a flash over the slips for four more. From nine off 29 balls, Rahul zoomed to 20 in the next eight. Them came a stunning six over extra-cover off Cummins, as Rahul planted his foot forward and played backed himself to complete the shot. Next, a picture-perfect cover drive for four to put 50 on the board.

Starc ended the stand at 63 when he returned and had Vijay poking and edging to second slip. Paine then summoned Hazlewood, who duly got Rahul in second over.

Pujara successfully reviewed a caught-behind decision off Nathan Lyon on 8 and with Kohli will aim to bat out the last session to drive India’s lead further.

Play had started 45 minutes late on Saturday owing to rain. India got in 3.4 overs before the rain returned, and in that brief period Starc moved from 8 to 15 before he became Jasprit Bumrah’s third wicket, and immediately the on-field umpires signalled for the teams to leave as the rain increased. Australia were 204/8 with Head batting on 66.

When the rain relented, Lyon injected a busy 24 in a stand of 27 with Head, hitting two fours and a six. That six came off Shami’s first ball of the morning, a confident swat over deep square leg. Shami had the final say, however, forcing edges off Head (72) and Hazlewood. Rishabh Pant held all three catches to fall today, giving him six for the innings to equal the Indian record held by MS Dhoni.

Shami will be on a hat-trick when Australia bat last.

Tea: India 250 & 86/2 (Rahul 44) lead Australia 235 (Head 72) by 101 runs