* India lose two wickets before wrapping up series
* Rahane shines as India’s stop-gap captain
* Smith hails quality of cricket in the series (Adds quotes)
By Amlan Chakraborty
DHARAMSALA, India, March 28 (Reuters) - Lokesh Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane steered India to an eight-wicket win in the fourth and final test against Australia as the hosts secured a 2-1 series victory at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium on Tuesday.
Rahul made 51 not out and Rahane added a rapid unbeaten 38 to help India chase down the modest 106-run victory target with more than five sessions to spare, the opener completing his sixth fifty of the series when he scored the winning runs.
Wrapping up the win appeared a formality for India when their openers walked out at the picturesque venue nestled in the shadows of the Himalayas needing just 87 runs to seal the series with all 10 second innings wickets intact.
Josh Hazlewood, however, seemed determined to make sure India would need to work for the win and the paceman struck Murali Vijay’s pad with consecutive balls in the first over but both leg-before wicket appeals were turned down by the umpire.
At the other end, Rahul was showing his fluency against spin, driving and sweeping Steve O‘Keefe for a couple of boundaries in the left-armer’s second over of the day.
Pat Cummins then came on to inject some brief excitement to proceedings when two Indian wickets fell in the paceman’s second over of the morning.
First he dismissed Vijay, caught behind for eight with his first delivery, and five balls later, Cheteshwar Pujara, normally a good judge of singles, was run out without scoring when he attempted a risky run.
Glenn Maxwell did an excellent job at point, where he collected Pujara’s push and threw down the middle stump at the non-striker’s end with the batsman well short of crease after a mix-up with Rahul.
Leading the side in the absence of injured skipper Virat Kohli, Rahane played with uncharacteristic aggression, hitting Cummins for back-to-back sixes at a stadium marking its debut as a test arena.
“We want to be scoring big runs and taking big wickets but at the end of the match, we want to standing behind that board that says ‘champions’,” Rahul said afterwards, calling it the best series he had ever played in.
“The way Jinks (Rahane) came out and started hitting Cummins for sixes was excellent. He came out with a clear mind and said ‘let’s not play this out, let’s attack’ and I said ‘okay’.”
The victory sealed India’s seventh series win in a row, dating back to their triumph in Sri Lanka in August 2015.
“Magnificent series,” Australia captain Steven Smith said. “One of the best I have been a part of. Credit to India, they are a fantastic cricket side, particularly in their backyard.”
The win also brought a successful end of India’s 13-test home season, in which they won 10, drew two and had the lone loss to Australia in the opener in Pune.
“To come back from 1-0 down against the Aussies, when you could see there were tired bodies out there was just brilliant,” India coach Anil Kumble said.
“It was a tough game and after losing Virat through injury, it was really important that the team stood up. Rahane led the team brilliantly,” the former captain added. (Editing by John O‘Brien/Peter Rutherford)