Ton-up Pujara, Mishra quash Lankan charge

Duo helps India end day two on 292/8

Ton-up Pujara, Mishra quash Lankan charge
A determined Cheteshwar Pujara celebrated his return to the playing XI with a typically pugnacious century to haul India out of trouble in the third Test against Sri Lanka here on Saturday.

Confined to the benches since the fourth Test against Australia this January, the 27-year-old unleashed his hunger in the best manner possible, slamming an unbeaten 135 (277 balls, 13x4) to help India reach 292/8 when play was called off towards the fag end of the second day following a brief spell of rain at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC).

While no words of praise can be too high for Pujara who repelled everything Sri Lanka threw at him, India also have to thank leg-spinner Amit Mishra (59, 87b, 7x4) for reaching this far. Coming in at 180/7 following the dismissal of R Ashwin, Mishra showed exemplary courage as he counter-attacked the hosts in calculated fashion, stitching together a superb 104-run partnership — the highest of the innings so far — with Pujara to power India ahead on a pitch packing plenty of punch still.

Concentration personified
Pujara, who scored his last hundred against South Africa in December 2013 and has since struggled for runs, was concentration personified. During the first part of the day when pacers Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep harried all the Indians by bowling an impeccable length and a probing line, the Saurashtra batsman showed plenty of grit and patience in overcoming that testing phase.

Unlike skipper Virat Kolhi (18, 60b, 3x4) and Rohit Sharma (26, 65b, 3x4, 1x4) who fell victims to the bait from Angelo Mathews and Prasad respectively after having done all the hard running early on, Pujara kept soldiering on at his own pace.

Runs came at snail’s pace during the opening hour where some balls were almost unplayable, but Pujara hardly appeared flustered. He knew the importance of this knock to his team and to his career that is at crossroads, and he simply was happy to shut shop and frustrate the bowlers.

Disciplined approach
Even when he lost partners Rohit and Staurt Binny off successive balls either side of lunch, Pujara maintained a monk-like discipline, hardly playing anything up and stroking boundaries only when the ball begged to be hit.

That said, his footwork was brilliant too throughout the day. A naturally good player against pace,Pujara used his feet well against spinners Rangana Herath and Tharindu Kaushal.

He kept getting up to the pitch of the ball, hardly allowing the two to settle down. He even greeted Kaushal, introduced into the attack in the 41st over, with three successive boundaries. The shots started to flow midway into the second session as he began to get comfortable with his stay in the middle.

While he kept flourishing with every passage, his partners kept perishing after raising hopes of a recovery. Debutante wicketkeeper Naman Ojha threw away his wicket while batting on a fine-looking 21 in trying to slog-sweep Kaushal and R Ashwin followed him soon after as India appeared to be folding up for sub-200 score.

Mishra’s effort
But Mishra, who has impressed with the bat this series showing how much effort he has put in while waiting for his second chance over the last four years, just took on the Sri Lankans in effortless fashion. That boosted Pujara’s confidence at the other end as well and the duo batted without much trouble.

Pujara then brought up his seventh Test century by charging down the wicket to Herath in the penultimate over before tea as applause poured in from the opposition camp as well. Man with a penchant for big hundreds, Pujara stayed composed even after reaching that milestone, combining brilliantly with Mishra to thwart the Sri Lankans.

Mishra survived an intense spell of bowling from the second new ball by Prasad, Pradeep and Mathews. He raced ahead to his third half-century and just when he looked like he would remain unseparated from Pujara, he fell unluckily. Going down the track to Herath, he ended up getting an inside edge and wicketkeeper Kusal Perera collected the ball of the ricochet and whipped the bails off.

Pujara, however, saw off the next 19 balls with Ishant Sharma as rain brought an early end to a fascinating contest between bat and ball.

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