SYDNEY: Rookie batsman Lokesh Rahul struck his maiden half century as India fought hard to reach 122 for two at lunch on the third day of their fourth and final cricket Test against Australia here today.
At the break, opener Rahul (50 batting off 164 balls) and skipper Virat Kohli (16 batting) were at the crease as the visitors still trail by 450 runs in their first innings.
Australia had declared their first innings at 572/7.
The 22-year-old Rahul, playing in his second Test match, got two reprieves. He first survived a run-out chance when on 42 and then Australian captain Steven Smith dropped a catch when the Indian opener was on 46.
The morning began with Rohit Sharma (53 off 133 balls) and Rahul at the crease as India started off from their overnight score of 71/1. They needed to bat for time as well as keep the runs ticking.
While they were successful at the first part, runs came in a trickle as the Australian bowling attack bowled with patience on an easy pitch. They held a tight line and length and gave very little for the Indian batsmen to play against.
Only 19 runs came off the first hour of play which saw 15 overs bowled. Only three boundaries came in that run of play, two off the bat of Rahul and one from Rohit. However, if the first hour was a little dull, there were many interesting things waiting to happen in the second part of this morning session.
It started with Nathan Lyon's (1/39) introduction into the attack as he got the ball to bounce and turn, using the rough marks to his advantage. In the 44th over, he had a close shout for a catch against Rahul (on 42 then) turned down, despite the replays showing that the batsman might have had a feather-nick to Joe Burns at short leg. It did not matter much as he got Rohit on the fourth delivery of that over. It was the first ball Rohit faced off the spinner and he went for an expansive sweep, only to get a bottom-edge onto his stumps. The batsman walked off dejected, having only reached his second Test fifty, off 132 balls in the previous over bowled by Ryan Harris (0/30).
It brought Kohli to the crease and was immediately beaten by Lyon off the first ball. The batsman nearly set off for a run and the non-striker, Rahul (still on 42) came half-way down the crease only to be sent back. It was a great run-out chance for Australia but substitute fielder Pat Cummins threw to the wrong end.
Then Rahul (on 46 then) had a third chance against him go down as he top-edged Shane Watson (0/10) in the 53rd over, only for Steve Smith to run back from first-slip but drop the skier as he was distracted by the spider-camhovering over him.
The opener brushed it all off and then struck a boundary in the next over to reach his maiden Test fifty, off 161 balls, in only his second match.
At the other end, Kohli also became the second Indian batsman to go past 500 runs in a Test series against Australia following in the footsteps of Rahul Dravid who accumulated 619 runs on the 2003-04 tour here.
Australia have already reclaimed the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 2-0 series lead after the third Test in Melbourne was drawn. They had won the first Test in Adelaide
by 48 runs and the second Test in Brisbane by four wickets.