India vs Australia: Pujara, Pant put India in command

After Cheteshwar Pujara's innings of 193, Rishabh Pant hammers an unbeaten 159 as India bury a dispirited Australia under a mountain of runs in the fourth and final fixture of the India vs Australia Test series in Sydney on Friday.

Rishabh Pant celebrates after scoring 150 runs against Australia in Sydney on Friday.   -  AP

Entering the Sydney Cricket Ground, the statue of one of Australia’s favourite cricketing sons, Steve Waugh, greets you.

Apart from being a tough-as-nails batsman, Waugh was a ruthless captain who often spoke about “mental disintegration of the opposition.”

At the SCG, Waugh’s home ground, the celebrated former Australian skipper watched helplessly from the Member’s Pavilion as Australia suffered physically and psychologically with the relentless Indians piling on the runs.

READ: AS IT HAPPENED

When India declared in the last session on day two of the fourth Test here on Friday at a mammoth 622 for seven, its first Test series triumph in Australia was virtually ensured. The host, pounded under a scorching run, was relieved to go off the field. The boot was on the other foot. 

Cheteshwar Pujara sent the Australians on a leather hunt.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

And had ‘keeper Rishabh Pant, diving to his left, not floored Usman Khawaja when the southpaw nicked Mohammed Shami, Australia would have lost a wicket very early.

Earlier, Pant had remained unbeaten on a 159 of compelling strokeplay; it was the first Test hundred by an Indian wicket-keeper batsman on Australian soil.  The surface was flat on day two and the Indian batsmen capitalised. Runs flowed even as the Aussie shoulders drooped.

Cheteshwar Pujara (193) batted on and on, ‘leaving’ and defending solidly, and driving, cutting, whipping and pulling for runs.

The right-hander was approaching a double hundred when he fell to a lovely Nathan Lyon delivery that dipped. Drawn forward, Pujara knocked back a return catch. During his innings, the patient Pujara went past Rahul Dravid’s mark of 1203 balls in 2003-04 for most deliveries faced by an Indian batsman in a Test series down under.

The resilient Pujara built partnerships around him; he added 101 for the fifth wicket before the promising Hanuma Vihari fell sweeping at Lyon.

Then Pujara and Pant raised 89 to snuff out hopes of an Australian comeback. After that, the tiring Australian attack was sent to the cleaners with Pant and Ravindra Jadeja (81) putting on a rousing 204 for the seventh.

The mercurial Pant innovated and created, a sense of adventure unmistakable in his batting. His confidence borders on arrogance and he doesn’t respect reputations.

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The left-hander strikes the ball with incredible bat speed. And he possesses strong wrists to further propel the sphere.

He square drove Mitchell Starc, cover-drove Josh Hazlewood and dismissed Lyon over long-on. Strong with his bottom hand, he cut, pulled and then reverse swept.

Southpaw Jadeja joined in, clubbing Pat Cummins past long-on for the maximum, and whacking Starc down the ground. He was looking good for a hundred when Jadeja jumped out was foxed in the air by Lyon.

The crafty Lyon held his own but the highly-rated Aussie pace attack seemed toothless.      

The inability of the Australian pacemen to achieve reverse swing has been a major area of concern for the host. The Kookaburra ball, with its diffused seam, encourages conventional swing for around the first 15 overs. After that it does very little in the air.

Ravindra Jadeja swings his bat after reaching his half-century in Sydney on Friday.   -  AP

The grounds here are not abrasive and the ball does not get scuffed up easily. There are legal means, though, for teams to ‘work’ on the ball to roughen up one side in a manner that would encourage reverse swing.

The Indians have bowled cross seam capably to land the ball consistently on one side to roughen it up. Consequently, the ball had reverse swung for the Indians.

Starc can reverse it but the left-arm quick has been out of his rhythm, unable to string together a series a good deliveries to create pressure.

The left-armer seems to have at least temporarily lost his ability to swing the ball into the right-hander from over the wicket, and has over-pitched or strayed down leg-side attempting his otherwise potent yorkers.

And apart from the odd mean ball, his short-pitched deliveries have been off mark.

India holds all the aces going into day three.