India vs Australia: Gutsy Pujara Ton Keeps India in Fight After Another Tepid Batting Display

Cheteshwar Pujara celebrates after reaching a century during the first Test in Adelaide. (AP Photo/James Elsby)


“Australia’s fifth bowler has been India’s shot selection,” said Mark Butcher on commentary, and the former English Test batsman wasn’t wrong. Australian bowlers came with a simple and straightforward plan of bowling full and outside off which proved to be enough to cause mayhem in India’s top-order on Day 1 of the opening Test at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday. Things could have been worse for the touring party if not for Cheteshwar Pujara’s doughty century.Opting to bat, India looked down and out at one stage with Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon all amongst wickets, and that’s when Pujara raised his hand to push India to 250 for 9 before the stumps were drawn on the first day. The No. 3 batsman crafted a brilliant 123, studded with seven fours and two sixes, before being run out at the stroke of stumps on Day 1.
KL Rahul (2) couldn’t have asked for a better surface for his game style and with his stocks waning with every match, this was his opportunity to spend some time in the middle and get back to form. Rahul, however, looked itchy from the word and go and ended up playing an unnecessary drive off Hazlewood’s full-length delivery only to manage a thick outside edge that went straight into the hands of the third slip.

India needed a good start to get the ball rolling but all they could get were three runs from Rahul and Murali Vijay who now averages 10.40 in away Tests as an opening pair. Prithvi Shaw’s injury meant India had to look back to Vijay but the 34-year-old too failed to cash in. Hazlewood and Starc kept teasing Vijay and Pujara by bowling full outside off and soon reaped rewards for the consistency. Vijay went for a drive in one of those deliveries, didn’t get behind the line of the ball and all he managed was a tickle to the wicket-keeper.

Vijay’s departure for 11 brought Indian skipper Virat Kohli to the crease who by now has got accustomed to facing the new ball in foreign conditions. The onus was once again on the batting maestro to dig India out of trouble alongside along with Pujara who was looking in his characteristic mode. However, before the dust had settled, Kohli too fell to Cummins in a similar fashion for 3. The ball was slightly short of a good length and Kohli poked at it as the edge flew to the left of Usman Khawaja at the gully region. Khawaja timed his dive to perfection and pulled off a one-handed screamer to leave everyone in disbelief. Cummins has now dismissed Kohli twice in four balls in Test cricket.

Ajinkya Rahane commenced his innings with a defensive approach before finally breaking the shackles by smacking Lyon for a maximum over deep mid-wicket. Just when it looked like the storm was starting to calm down, Rahane too threw his wicket away. The story was no different – (drive-edge-caught-slip) – as the visiting side lost their four wickets with just 41 runs on the board.

Amidst all the chaos, Pujara looked solid at the other end and was willing to grit it out. He, however, needed some support from the other end and the situation was perfect for someone like Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant to make a statement. Rohit was selected in the XI because of his ability against short deliveries. The limited-overs southpaw announced his arrival with an eye-pleasing cover drive before slapping Cummins’ pacy bouncer for a six. He then followed it up with a lofted front foot drive over deep cover for a yet another six and it looked like India were slowly getting back on track.

While Pujara was more sedate with this approach, Rohit kept playing his shots. In order to unsettle Lyon, Rohit slog-swept him for a six as the off-spinner became the first bowler to concede over 200 sixes in this format. Lyon, however, snared revenge in the very next delivery as Rohit threw away his start by playing an outrageous shot. Lyon gave the delivery an ample time to turn and Rohit ended up mistiming it straight into the hands of debutant Marcus Harris at deep square leg for 37. Pant too came out all guns blazing and took the attack to Starc, but never looked in good shape. After playing a couple of attacking shots and surviving close call, Pant too perished, caught right in front of stumps for 25.

Stumbling at 127 for 6, Pujara finally found an ally in R Ashwin who was looking to spend time in the middle rather than going for needless shots. The two focused more on strike rotation and kept the scoreboard ticking. In the process, Pujara brought up his half-century and kept pushing India towards a respectable first-innings score. The two added 62 runs for the seventh wicket before Ashwin got a peach of a delivery from Cummins that he nicked to Peter Handscomb at second slip. Ashwin chipped in with 25 runs but was able to play out 76 deliveries.

That’s when Pujara took over and started playing more positively. The 30-year-old kept most of the strike but there was still no recklessness from the Saurashtra batsman. Pujara scored most of his runs behind the stumps considering the bouncy nature of the surface. Someone like Ishant Sharma was always going to find it tough against Starc but Pujara remained firm. The first signs of aggression came in the 84th over when he tonked Hazlewood’s bouncers for a six and four in consecutive deliveries. He brought up his 16th Test century with a flick towards the mid-wicket region but there was no fancy celebration as such as Pujara’s focus was solely on accumulating as many runs as possible.

Having completed his century, Pujara started to open up and took the attack to Australian bowlers. He got his last 30 runs in no time and it was only because of Cummins’ sensational run out on the brink of Day 1 Pujara had to walk back to the dressing room without a star mark on the top-right of his score.

First Published: December 6, 2018, 1:25 PM IST