India vs Australia: Pujara ton helps India claw back against Australia

Cheteshwar Pujara's patient century steered India to 250-9 at stumps on day one of the first Test of the ongoing India vs Australia Test series.

Cheteshwar Pujara celebrates after scoring his first century in Australia during first day of the first Test of the ongoing India vs Australia Test series.   -  Reuters

The Adelaide Oval is 9560 kilometres away from his Rajkot roots but that did not prevent Cheteshwar Pujara from feeling at home here on Thursday. His top-order colleagues deserted, the temperature soared to 38 degrees and the Australian fast bowlers challenged the speed-gun. At one point, Mitchell Starc clocked 149.6 kilometres per hour but the Saurashtra batsman remained undaunted.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Pujara’s marvellous 123 (246b, 7x4, 2x6) and his 62-run seventh-wicket partnership with R. Ashwin, helped Virat Kohli’s men last through the first Test’s opening day. After the morning’s batting horrors, India made some amends thanks to Pujara, and finished with 250 for nine. A dominant Australia and Pujara's exemplary knock offered much cheer to the 23,802 spectators, who thronged the venue.

RELATED| Key highlights from day one

A steady head, adhesive bat and grim resolve were the key ingredients that nourished Pujara’s 16th Test ton, during the course of which he also joined the 5000-run club. In the rebuilding phase, he faced nearly 30 deliveries without scoring. Self-denial was his second skin but much later, he stood on his toes and cut Starc for six! Finally Pujara was left stranded as Pat Cummins’s direct hit knocked down the stumps.

Earlier, the sun was up at 5.55 a.m. and slowly the dry heat spread, demanding excessive moisturising creams. The fans trooped in, wearing their loose cotton outfits and caps, and carrying the odd folding chair. The long format had returned to Australia and the slogan - ‘It’s your game’, found ample space in advertisements.

 

As starts go, the host couldn’t have asked for more. India won the toss, elected to bat and its old ghosts stirred. The stumble in the beginning, a malaise that recurs in the first innings of an opening Test played away from the sub-continent, returned to haunt. At Cape Town in January, India gasped at 76 for five; at Birmingham in August, it was 100 for five. Now, add Adelaide to it – 86 for five!

K.L. Rahul fatally drove against Josh Hazlewood and it triggered a similar pattern of dismissals. Murali Vijay muffled Starc’s venom-spitting bouncer but when the left-arm seamer angled one across, the opener drove more in hope.

India's Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot on the off-side enroute to his 123 against Australia in the opening day of the first Test.   -  REUTERS

 

11.02 a.m, India 15 for two and in walked Kohli. The crowd broke into a steady applause. It was the kind of heartfelt admiration previously reserved for Sachin Tendulkar. The leaning-out expansive drive became the Indian skipper’s tragic flaw. Cummins was ecstatic as the edge found a gravity-defying Usman Khawaja at gully.

After drinks, Nathan Lyon stepped in and a few overs later, in a marking-territory manoeuvre, Ajinkya Rahane hoisted the off-spinner for six. And then he drove with vaulting ambition against Hazlewood and was snapped at second slip. India tottered at 41 for four while Pujara sealed one end. Along with Rohit Sharma (37), he anchored India to an unappetising lunch score of 56 for four.

Australia's Usman Khwaja celebrates after taking a spectacular catch to dismiss Indian skipper Virat Kohli on Thursday.   -  AP

But after the break, Rohit suffered a brain-fade. A slog-sweep off Lyon was almost caught by Marcus Harris but the fielder’s feet grazed the ropes and a six was declared. Rohit immediately darted forward to the next ball and a perceptive Lyon shortened the length. The Mumbaikar miscued and Harris caught well. Half the Indian batting was back in the pavilion but Pujara hung in and relished a lone moment of indulgence as he upper cut Starc.

Meanwhile, Rishabh Pant was more Don Quixote tilting at the windmills. He unsettled Starc but succumbed to Lyon. Eventually with Ashwin giving him company, Pujara nudged India closer to 200, and though his partner fell, he soldiered on. The new ball then accounted for Ishant Sharma but Pujara hooked a six and struck a four off Hazlewood. Soon a brace off Starc, ushered in Pujara’s three-figure milestone. India partially found its spine through him but more needs to be done over the next few days.