London, Jun 9 (IANS): Playing in Test cricket for the first time since January 2022, veteran Ajinkya Rahane shone on his comeback with an unbeaten 89 while sharing a crucial 108-run stand with Shardul Thakur, unconquered on 36, to take India to 260/6 at lunch on Day Three of the World Test Championship Final at The Oval here on Friday.
When K.S Bharat was clean bowled up by Australia's Scott Boland in the first over of the morning session as India resumed on 151/5, the fear of being bowled out quickly loomed large. But Rahane and Thakur fought hard to capitalise on Australia's inconsistent bowling. They also had some luck via no-balls and sloppy fielding to keep India afloat with a solid fightback and reduce the deficit to 209 runs.
Rahane was precise in his timing and application to bring out some scintillating strokeplay against full and short balls while on his way to becoming the 13th Indian batter to cross 5000 runs in Test cricket.
Meanwhile, Thakur overcome some blows on the forearm to hang around and brought out stunning shots in a splendid partnership with Rahane to bring India on the verge of avoiding the ignominy of a follow-on.
Australia made the breakthrough on the second ball of the day as Boland got the fuller ball to seam in from outside off and beat the inside edge of Bharat to castle him through the gate. Australia could have got another wicket if Cameron Green had taken a tough catch to dismiss Thakur early for eight after Usman Khawaja dropped the batter's catch on nought.
Thakur was also troubled by the pace and bounce from Pat Cummins, copping blows on his left forearm twice. Rahane, though was undeterred and played with soft hands to drive in the gap through square of the wicket on the off-side twice for fours, before hooking outstandingly on the backfoot off Cummins over long leg for six to reach his fifty.
Rahane then survived a close lbw appeal off Green, before edging one over slip cordon and leaning into an elegant drive past extra cover to pick back-to-back fours. Thakur wowed the crowd with a smashing cover drive on a juicy half-volley from Starc for four and when the pacer pitched it short, he cracked a stunning cut over point for another boundary.
Rahane got a life at 72 when he drove hard off Cummins and the edge flew between keeper Alex Carey and first slip David Warner, as the latter barely got a hand on the ball after reacting late. The 35-year-old Mumbai batter welcomed Nathan Lyon by driving an overpitched delivery through cover-point for four.
Thakur gained more confidence by flicking a half-volley from Cummins past square-leg for four. Rahane brought up the century of the partnership with a sweet back-foot punch through cover-point off Lyon for four and ended the over with a trademark cover drive for a boundary.
Thakur was trapped lbw on 36 but replays on review showed Cummins had overstepped yet again, giving him and India a huge sigh of relief. He had luck on his side when Australia went for a review for caught-behind, but didn't get an edge and lost their review as the first session ended in India's favour.
Australia 469 lead India 260/6 in 60 overs (Ajinkya Rahane 89 not out, Ravindra Jadeja 48, Shardul Thakur 36 not out; Scott Boland 2-47, Nathan Lyon 1-19) by 209 runs.