What a ton! Pujara stands tall amidst ruins

India's batsman Cheteshwar Pujara (L) plays a shot off Australia's paceman Josh Hazlewood (R) during day one of the first cricket Test match at the Adelaide Oval on December 6, 2018. (Photo by PETER PARKS / AFP)

Australia showed few signs of a side in turmoil as their bowlers turned the heat on the self-destructing Indian batsmen to take first day’s honours of the opening Test.  

India expectedly opted to bat first after winning the toss, but they perhaps didn’t anticipate the carnage the Australian quicks were to unleash in a fine exhibition of fast bowling at the well-attended Adelaide Oval. They got the ball to nip off the pitch, purchased enough lateral movement and extracted good bounce to restrict the tourists to 250/9 in 87.5 overs here on Thursday. Having slipped to 4-41 and then to 5-86, India appeared headed for an early bowl before a battling Cheteshwar Pujara (123, 246b, 7x4, 2x6) partially salvaged the day for them with his maiden ton Down Under. The day’s play ended when Pujara was run out which looked the only way he could have been dismissed on the day.      

Only the Saurashtra batsman showed the application and the resolve required to conquer the situation even as other top-order batsmen flunked the test miserably. While Australia were right on the money, the Indian batsmen greatly contributed to their own downfall by batting like the millionaires that they are. It was a shambolic display of batsmanship that was as inept as it was irresponsible. Kohli has spoken of being positive without resorting to playing rash shots but his message seemed to have lost on his batsmen, the skipper himself being guilty of gifting his wicket away.        

The key to survival on the wicket was to stay patient and wait for the ball lose its fizz. But the Indian batsmen showed inexplicable urgency to perish at an alarming speed. Rahul’s wretched run continued with the right-hander going for a loose shot, way outside off-stump. It was a rank poor stroke executed at the most ill-opportune time.

The returning M Vijay too fell in similar manner, his thick outside edge off Mitchell Starc comfortably carrying to wicketkeeper Tim Paine. It appeared to be a clever set-up by the left-armer who first pushed the batsman on the back with a perfume ball and then bowled a full one just outside the off-stump inviting a drive.

By the seventh over Kohli, who walked into a round of applause from the gathering, found himself in all-too-familiar situation. He appeared determined to grind it out, refusing to fall for the off-side trap. He either swayed or ducked the short ones and left alone the ones in the corridor. The Aussie persistence, however, paid off with Kohli going for the front foot drive slightly away from his body. The resultant edge was excellently snapped by a flying Usman Khawaja at gully and the exaggerated celebration and a huge roar from the home crowd were an ample reflection of the magnitude of the moment. In the manufactured battle between Kohli and Australia, the latter has won the first round.

Ajinkya Rahane was positive from the start, using his feet against Nathan Lyon and looking assured against the pacers despite a few iffy moments. He even deposited Lyon over long-on for a six but was dismissed in a moment of indiscretion. The vice-captain, under pressure to perform, seemed to have learnt nothing from the dismissal of three batsmen before him, going for a drive and offering a catch to Peter Handscomb at second slip for Hazlewood’s second scalp.

Rohit Sharma, returning to Tests after his last appearance in January this year in Centurion, seemed determined to set the record straight. He was the best batsman on the show on the day but got out playing an inexcusable shot completely oblivious to the situation the team was in. Having barely survived after debutante Marcus Harris had failed to stay inside the boundary after catching his slog off Lyon, Rohit repeated the shot only to miscue it. Harris had to just run in a few yards to take the simple offer.

Rishab Pant lived dangerously, flicking, edging and missing and it wasn’t long before Lyon had him caught behind to put the hosts firmly on top. At 127 for six, India threatened to fold for a sub-150 total, but Pujara and R Ashwin added 62 for the seventh wicket to give India’s total a semblance of respectability.    

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