Pujara slams 193, Pant unbeaten on 159; India 622/7d

Pujara slams 193, Pant unbeaten on 159; India 622/7d

Cheteshwar Pujara continued to torment Australia, motoring his way to his highest overseas score as India further strengthened their position in the final Test. (AFP)

When was the last time you saw an Australian fielder gave up chasing a ball halfway through its journey to the rope? Hard to recollect.

The penultimate ball of the 116the over by Nathan Lyon was deftly worked to fine-leg by Cheteshwar Pujara (193, 548m, 373b, 22x4). The ball was trundling rather than speeding towards the boundary but Josh Hazlewood, who had bowled 27 overs till then, let the ball win the race. Nothing could have reflected the Aussie state of mind better – battered and bruised. Not only India have kept Australians on the park for almost two days in hot conditions, they also made them bowl 167 overs, putting in perspective the toll their bodies have taken.

Apart from Pujara, Rishabh Pant (159 n.o., 189b, 15x4, 1x6) too notched up a ton only for his second Test ton after the one against England earlier this year. India declared their innings closed at 622 for seven when Ravindra Jadeja (81, 114b, 7x4, x6) fell in an attempt to reach his century fast and hasten the declaration. India’s second highest total Down Under has now put the issue all but beyond Australia.        

Needing to bat out 10 overs, the hosts were 24/0 at close, trailing India by 598 runs with Usman Khawaja (5) and Marcus Harris (24) seeing off the day. Australia should have been one down at least but Khawaja was dropped by Pant off Mohammad Shami in the third over, slightly taking the sheen out of stumper’s effort with the bat.  

It’s not just the mountain of runs that will be weighing heavy on the minds of an inexperienced Australian batting line-up but the fatigue, both mental and physical, as well.

Pujara missed out on what would have been his maiden double ton in an away Test, but his epic innings had done enough to deflate the Australians before the left-handed duo of Jadeja and Pant inflicted more damage with their 204-run stand in just 224 balls. Having been reprieved by Khawaja on 192 off Lyon, Pujara failed to make the most of the ‘life’ and offered a return catch to the same bowler to fall agonisingly short of his third career double hundred. That, however, was a temporary relief for an already tired Australian attack as Pant and Jadeja took India to tea at a commanding 491 for six.   

This is Pujara’s highest in his eight away centuries with the previous best being 153 (2013) in both Johannesburg and in Galle (2017).

Another overnight batsman Hanuma Vihari (42, 96b, 5x4) didn’t add anything significant to his previous day’s score but Pujara and then Pant and Jadeja toyed with the Australian attack, rendered a little helpless by the flat nature of the pitch. Pujara began on a cautious note, and once he got his eye in and got his feet moving, he looked impregnable. He was at ease against both pace and spin; driving and cutting and pulling pushing his way closer to what seemed an inevitable double hundred. The only solace for Lyon was that he managed the most prized Indian wicket on this tour but only paved the way for more misery on Australia.    

Pant and Jadeja joined forced in the middle with India in comfortable 418 for six but far from the commanding position they are in now. Unlike in the previous innings when the stumper has thrown his wickets away without a care a in the world, on the day he showed remarkable restraint and together with Jadeja gave the Australians little whiff of coming back into the match. During an entertaining stand, the two southpaws, with excellent batting record in first-class cricket, teased and tormented the home bowlers burying them in avalanche of runs.

Brief scores: India (I Innings; O/n: 303/4): 622/7 in 167.2 overs (Cheteshwar Pujara 193, Rishabh Pant 159 n.o., Ravindra Jadeja 81; Nathan Lyon 4-178) vs Australia (I Innings): 24/0 in 10 overs.