Sydney Test: Pujara, Mayank masterclass puts India on top

Cheteshwar Pujara crafted his third century of the series and Mayank Agarwal scored a gritty half-century at the top as India posted a comfortable 303/4 on the first day of the fourth India vs Australia Test in Sydney.

India's Cheteshwar Pujara celebrates his 100 on the first day of the fourth Test against Australia.   -  AP

Cheteshwar Pujara’s eyes reflect his intensity. He does relish the sniff of a duel.

Riding on Pujara’s resolve and that ability to construct lasting edifices, India took a firm step towards its first ever Test series triumph in Australia.

Virat Kohli’s team was on a comfortable 303 for four at stumps on the first day of the fourth Test at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Thursday. The Indians were positive and the runs came freely.

Pujara was unbeaten on 130 after an innings of patience and judicious strokeplay. And the promising Hanuma Vihari was batting on an impressive 39.

Countering the second new ball, the undefeated fifth-wicket pair has added crucial 75 runs; collecting some easy runs against a tired Aussie attack in the last hour.   

Scoreboard and as it happened

Earlier, opener Mayank Agarwal, continuing to grow in stature, came up with a strokeful 77 even as his partner K. L. Rahul, nibbling at a Josh Hazlewood delivery outside off, edged tamely to first slip.

In the morning, Virat Kohli did his side a huge favour by winning the toss. The pitch was good for batting: the ball didn't move prodigiously in the air or off the surface and thereby encouraged strokeplay.

But then, this wicket has the reputation of assisting spin from Day 3 and Australia has a big job in its hands. It’s advantage for India.

And the never-say-die Pujara held centrestage. He has now joined Sunil Gavaskar with three hundreds in a Test series down under. Only Kohli with four here in 2014-15 has more centuries by an Indian batsman.

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Essentially a bottom handed player, Pujara has employed the cut - a productive shot in Australia - effectively. He waits and waits and anything short, he dismisses past point.

When Mitchell Starc provided him width outside off, Pujara cut him to the fence. Strong back-foot play has been the key to Pujara’s stupendous success in Australia.

And then, like most bottom-handed batsmen, Pujara is strong off his legs. Deliveries to his pads are whipped through mid-wicket.

Hazelwood steamed in with the second new ball and landed one on middle and leg. Pujara flicked the sphere to the fence.

The duel between Lyon and Pujara was fascinating. When Lyon flighted, Pujara used his feet; not always for runs. There were other occasions when he pierced the gaps.

When Lyon changed the pace of the ball or varied the angle, Pujara adjusted capably. The Indian won the face-off.  

Vihari was both solid and forceful against the second new ball. The confidence with which the youngster cut Starc underlined his ability. Earlier, he had punched the left-arm quick through the off-side field.

India's Mayank Agarwal goes over the top during his innings of 71.   -  AFP

The right-hander’s game is built on a sound defence. He has a trigger movement forward but adjusts to the length quickly and does collect runs off his back-foot between cover and point.

The diminutive Mayank Agarwal is making big strides. There was some movement and carry for the pacemen in the morning under a cloud cover and on a pitch with a greenish tinge but the young opener was balanced and poised as he met the ball.

Mayank sets himself up very well in his stance with wonderful distribution of weight. He does not commit himself and has this ability to be attacking without being rash.

His cover-drives off either foot off Starc and Cummins scorched the turf. And the Karnataka opener employed his feet well against Lyon, striking sixes down the ground and over long-on. But then, the wily off-spinner held one back, and Mayank, dancing down, holed out.

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Kohli missed out, rather unluckily gloving a delivery down leg-side from Hazlewood to ‘keeper Paine.

And Rahane was dismissed by Starc with a well-directed short delivery that the Mumbai batsman fended to the wicketkeeper.

But then, this Australian attack lacked persistent control from both ends to create the pressure. The Indians were not complaining.