Pujara special propels India

Kohli shines too as Dhoni's men take 320-run lead after bowlers' impressive show

Pujara special propels India

The South Africans were certainly not expecting to see this side of India. They might have been looking for a team low on morale, scared of snorters and confused after their modest outings in the one-dayers.

But for three straight days in the first Test, India have called shots in emphatic manner. In the latest such instance their batsmen amassed 284 for two in their second innings for an overall lead of 320 runs, putting their team on course for a historic win.

Cheteshwar Pujara masterminded India’s surge in the second innings with a well-compiled unbeaten hundred (135). In the morning session, India bundled out South Africa, overnight 213 for six, for 244 to gain an innings lead of 36 runs.

That lead may have an insignificant look about it, but sometimes those small numbers can instill oodles of confidence. The Indian openers’ approach reflected it. No longer they looked edgy and left the balls outside the off-stump on length and line with ease. But Vernon Philander broke the opening stand and also grabbed his 100th wicket in Tests, dismissing Shikhar Dhawan.

But thereafter, there wasn’t much joy for the South Africans as Pujara involved in two superb stands – 70 for the second wicket with M Vijay and 191 for the unbroken third wicket partnership with Virat Kohli, who made a solid unbeaten fifty himself.

The South Africans were also handicapped by the absence of Morne Morkel, their best bowler thus far in this Test. Morkel twisted his ankle when his foot got stuck in the sand while fielding at fine leg. But that in no way should take the credit away from the Indian batsmen as the Proteas still had lot of quality in their pace attack comprising Steyn, Philander and Kallis.

By the time Kallis jettisoned Vijay, India had reached 93 – a platform from where they could look to push India’s total beyond the grasp of the South Africans. Pujara and Kohli did precisely that, grinding down the hosts with an impeccable show of batsmanship.

South African pacers have used to dominate and bully oppositions at their home, but, for once, they were at the receiving end as the right-handed duo took them apart in stunning fashion.

The spinners – leg-spin of Imran Tahir and the part-time spin of Jean-Paul Duminy – were treated with utter disrespect as India scored 175 runs in the last session and a good chunk of it came from Pujara’s bat.

Pujara paced his innings like a long-distance runner, starting in a measured way before going through the end stages in a blaze.

The Saurashtra batsman, who consumed 65 balls for his first boundary, took 127 balls to reach his first fifty. But then raced to his second fifty in just 41 balls.

His signature cut shots began to appear far more frequently at this stage, proving that he is good at bashing and blocking in equal measures. In fact, a little statistical piece would reveal that. In the Tests, played in 2013 Pujara has better strike rate than AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli, all batsmen capable of sparkling stroke-play.

His innings would have ended on 52 had Tahir held on to a return catch, and they left ruing that missed chance for the rest of the evening as Pujara showed his penchant for big runs.

The Saurashtra batsman soon brought up his sixth hundred in Tests – his first against South Africa and away from home – with a sumptuous drive through covers off Steyn, and melted into the embrace of Kohli, who had made his first ton against the Proteas a couple of days back.

Once the double bounce in the Wanderers pitch seemed to settled down, Kohli too joined the party with his own set of pulls and drives as South Africans’ shoulders and heads gradually began to droop. That India’s run-rate in this period oscillated between five and six runs per over underlined the domination of Indian batsmen.

The picture of Kallis kicking the ground in disgust after Pujara drove him to the cover fence revealed the expanse of India’s domination and South Africa’s helplessness.

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