Pujara slams ton, India declare at 443/7

India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara (R) celebrates his century with teammate Virat Kohli on day two of the third Test against Australia in Melbourne on December 27, 2018. (AFP Photo)

A determined batting by India in the first two sessions and a sloppy catching by Australia in final session of the day’s play combined to put the tourists in a position from where they can dictate the course of the game.

Cheteshwar Pujara (106, 319b, 10x4) and Virat Kohli (82, 204, 9x4) first, and later Rohit Sharma (63 n.o., 114b, 5x4) helped India, overnight 215/2, declare their first innings closed at 443/7 in 169.4 overs. Australia, needing to survive seven overs, were eight without loss at stumps on the second day of the second Test here at the MCG on Thursday. Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris faced a few anxious moments before walking back with their wickets intact.

On a pitch where wickets were hard to come by unless the batsmen committed mistakes or the ball behaved strangely, Australia did themselves no favour by grassing as many as four catches, three of whom cost them dear. On Wednesday, Tim Paine let off Kohli on 47 while on Thursday, Ajinkya Rahane (on 32), Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant, when both on 15, were grassed off easy chances. On all three occasions Nathan Lyon was the bowler.

Australia now trail India by 435 runs, and with the pitch increasingly going up and down, the home batsmen know they have a tough task ahead of them. The manner of dismissals of Pujara and Rahane, who were done in by shooters, would have given Australia as much concern as delight.           

The slow pace of the innings notwithstanding, the battle between bat and ball remained riveting throughout the first two sessions. Also adding to the slow scoring rate was the sluggish pitch and the heavy outfield. Batsmen found it difficult time the ball well and whenever they did, the ball lost its velocity against the slow outfield.   

Pujara brought up the second century of the series while Virat Kohli missed out on one as India made the Australian attack toil hard without much reward for a prolonged period of time. It was Pujara’s 17th Test century while Kohli brought up his 20th half-century as the duo added 170 runs for the third wicket but more importantly, put more miles into their pacemen’s legs on a day when temperature hovered at 37 degree Celsius. Success came Australia’s way in the immediacy of lunch when the hosts had both Kohli and Pujara in quick succession by which time, though, they had inflicted enough damage.   

For the second Test in a row, Kohli embraced caution over aggression. The Indian skipper, overnight 47, reached his fifty with a flicked three of Pat Cummins early in the day but after that he was happy defending for almost the length of his stay. There were a few of attractive drives, particularly the punch down the ground off Josh Hazlewood, but he was largely content with playing the waiting game.

His partner Pujara was equally composed as the duo succeeded in wearing down the Aussie attack. The first hour saw India score no more than 31 runs but in the second, Pujara stepped up the rate when he decided to take on Lyon. The off-spinner set an attacking field in an attempt to entice Pujara to play his shots and the right-hander took the challenge head-on slamming the bowler for three fours in the second hour.

Post lunch, Australia adopted the short-ball strategy by bringing in third man, fine leg and deep backward square-leg. Mitchell Starc bowled with sustained pace and relentless accuracy. Kohli after ducking a few and mis-timing a couple, pulled one to the fence. Starc sent down an even shorter delivery and Kohli, in an attempt to ramp it over third man, ended up finding him right under the ball.

Three overs later, Cummins cleaned up Pujara with a grubber to which the batsman had no answer. Two wickets in the space of six runs brought some relief to home bowlers, but Rohit and Rahane (34) and then Rohit and Rishabh Pant (39) frustrated the hosts with their cameo stands.

Brief scores: India (O/n: 215/2): 443/7 declared in 169.4 overs (Cheteshwar Pujara 106, Virat Kohli 82, Mayank Agarwal 76, Rohit Sharma 63 n.o.; Pat Cummins 3-72, Mitchell Starc 2-87) vs Australia: 8/0 in 7 overs.

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Pujara slams ton, India declare at 443/7

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