Pujara century keeps Indian innings together

Hosts reach 360/6 at stumps on day 3

Pujara century keeps Indian innings together
After a day of fluctuating fortunes, India fought hard to stay on an even keel with Australia in the third Test. India teased and tormented the tourists through a combination of old-school batting and timely enterprise while Australians did well to prevent the hosts from establishing control through a perseverant Pat Cummins (4/59) who bowled with pace and sustained intensity on a pitch which remained kind to the batsmen. At close on Saturday’s third day here at the JSCA Stadium, India had reached 360 for six in 130 overs, Cheteshwar Pujara holding their innings together with an unbeaten 130 (328b, 17x4). Wriddhiman Saha was giving him the company on 18, having forged a 32-run stand for the unbroken seventh wicket.  

India also owed their position to M Vijay’s measured 82 (183b, 10x4, 1x6). Returning to the playing XI after missing the Bengaluru Test due to a shoulder injury, Vijay was unlucky to miss out on a century in his 50th Test. Having worked hard for his innings, the right-hander stepped out to Steve O’Keefe but missed the ball to be stumped by Matthew Wade at the stroke of lunch. It was a rather tactless end to a calculated innings.       

Before Pujara took control of the charge, Vijay frustrated the Aussies combining his staying power with attacking intent. Having begun his day with a six off O’Keefe, Vijay sort of went into a shell with an equally circumspect Pujara for company. India managed no more than 24 runs in the first hour of the morning session when the Australians bowled some tight lines.

The second hour, however, proved to be a lot more productive as Vijay and Pujara showed some urgency. Vijay kept the score board moving by picking up a flurry of boundaries. He was particularly severe on Nathan Lyon, employing the sweep shot to great effect against the off-spinner. Just when India appeared to finish the first session on satisfying note, Vijay fell to rush of blood.

India’s response was then helmed by Pujara, whose fourth century of the season was the rock around which India built their unfinished innings that once again underlined his importance to the side. Despite a painful right index finger, the Saurashtra batsman carried on bravely, building useful partnerships along the way. He added 32 runs for the third wicket with Virat Kohli, 51 runs with Ajinkya Rahane for the fourth wicket and 44 runs with Karun Nair, who once again lost his woodwork to an incoming delivery, for the fifth wicket. In all these stands, he was the dominant partner. Pujara not only shielded his partners by taking majority of the strike but took the responsibility of scoring runs as well. Following up on his match-changing 90 in the second Test in Bengaluru, Pujara notched up his 11th career hundred which he will be hoping to convert into a bigger knock.

Though these are undoubtedly the best batting conditions in the series so far, the significance of Pujara’s innings can’t be valued given the circumstances. He looked the most comfortable against Cummins who troubled the Indian batsmen with his bounce and pace. Having accounted KL Rahul the previous evening with a sharp-rising ball, he dismissed R Ashwin on the day in similar fashion – both batsmen a trifle late to sway away from the line of the ball. In between he had got rid of Kohli and Rahane after Australia had summoned the new ball.

Kohli chased one in the corridor to edge a catch to slip for his fifth failure of the series while Rahane was too cheeky for his own good, trying to ramp a Cummins’ bouncer. Playing only in his second Test after a gap of almost five and half years, Cummins bent his back and extracted steep bounce even from a slow surface. With India seemingly in control in the second session, Cummins did the damage with the new ball by dismissing Kohli and Rahane to open up the lower middle order but Pujara stood firm to keep Australia at bay.

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