Ajinkya Rahane was facing immense pressure ahead of the Antigua Test. The India cricket team vice captain had not scored a century for close to 30 innings in Tests. In the warm-up game against West Indies A, Rahane struggled for form and timing to manage scores of 1 and 54. On the opening day of the Antigua Test, India had lost Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli cheaply. Rahane struggled for 30 balls to make one run but he hung in there.
Rahane shared a partnership of 68 with KL Rahul and 82 with Hanuma Vihari as he notched up his 18th Test fifty to help India reach 203/6 at the end of the day's play. Rishabh Pant was unbeaten on 20 as India would be aiming for a score in excess of 250.
Rahane's innings, that was studded with 10 boundaries, was the saving grace in an otherwise disappointing day for the Indian batsmen, who struggled against the seasoned new-ball pair of Kemar Roach (3/34 in 17 overs) and Shannon Gabriel (2/49 in 15 overs).
Once Rahul was smartly snapped down the leg-side by wicket-keeper Shai Hope off Roston Chase's bowling at the start of the post-lunch session, Rahane seemed to open up. A square and straight drive off Gabriel and a cover drive of Roach signalled his intentions. Although he should consider himself lucky after a mistimed lofted shot off Chase was dropped by Miguel Cummins, who tried latching onto the catch running backwards from the mid-on position.
To add insult to injury, Rahane got a double off Cummins to complete his half-century. The stylish right-hander found it easy to play on the rise. He also hit a lovely backfoot cover drive off Chase and looked good for a hundred but he fell to Gabriel for 81. Rahane termed his 68-run stand with Rahul to be a crucial one in the larger context of the match. "At the start of our innings, the wicket was tricky. It was a bit sticky (spongy bounce) and there was sideways movement. Throughout the day, they bowled pretty well. What was important was to have a partnership going and still be positive in our intent. The partnership with Rahul was crucial at that situation. We were not thinking too far ahead. The motive was to play one ball at a time and take it on from there," Rahane said.
He also lauded Vihari for lending him support after Rahul's dismissal. "Vihari is a guy who has got lots of runs in Ranji Trophy and first-class cricket, and he knows how to bat in these situations. So all these guys, who play a lot of India A games know how to bat in these conditions in five-day games. So I thought Vihari's approach was pretty good, not only here but even in Australia," Vihari said.