Ton-up Pujara gives India edge with slender lead

Cheteshwar Pujara's unbeaten 132 was the difference for India's 273, in reply to England's first innings total of 246.

Cheteshwar Pujara batted close to six hours for his gruelling 132 not out.   -  AFP

Life did not seem easy for Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease, but it almost never does. His first three runs took 32 balls, he ran between the wickets as if his feet were bound together, and when all looked good he was hit on the helmet. Twice. Pujara gives the impression that he is forever locked in some battle, forever jogging uphill, forever resisting something or someone. Until he no longer does; and then the runs just don't stop.

On Friday, Pujara did what he does best -- fight -- and that bailed India out of trouble yet again. He finished with an unbeaten 132, only his second century outside Asia, as the touring side secured a slender 27-run first-innings lead in the fourth Test. It could yet prove vital. Pujara's hundred came after a dramatic batting collapse -- Moeen Ali in the thick of things -- had threatened to hand England a good advantage. Instead, India managed to drag itself to 273 and the home side was left facing an awkward four overs before the close of play. England’s openers emerged unscathed, however.

Key highlights: Pujara's gritty ton and Moeen five-for

The situation looked grim for India shortly after tea. Rishabh Pant had fallen to Ali on the stroke of the interval, and on the other side, there were three quick strikes. Hardik Pandya flicked a ball from outside off straight into Joe Root's hands on the leg-side, R. Ashwin was bowled reverse-sweeping and Mohammed Shami was knocked over first ball. Ali, India's tormentor here four years ago, was at it again. The visitor was eight down for 195, having lost six for 53 in the space of 10 overs. Pujara, though, showed patience and application like he had all day, finding able allies in Ishant Sharma and Jasprit

Bumrah. The last two pairs added 78 runs as India first drew level and then pulled ahead, Pujara going on the attack, whipping Broad through mid-on, stepping down the pitch to Ali. It put the smiles back on Indian faces and left the match evenly, fascinatingly poised.

In the morning, England had broken through early, Broad snaring K.L. Rahul with a ball that nipped back in - it is a delivery that has continually troubled the opener this series. At the other end, Shikhar Dhawan had shown admirable restraint until he was lured into a drive by Broad. Jos Buttler snaffled the outside-edge behind the wicket.

India was 50 for two, having scored only 13 runs in the preceding 11 overs. The pressure was growing. Virat Kohli and Pujara, though, would not be cowed. They scored briskly with Pujara, who had been cautious to start with, soon breaking the shackles. Kohli, who at the start of the match needed six runs to get to an aggregate of 6000 in Tests, reached the milestone with an edge that beat third slip and sped to the boundary. At lunch, India was 100 for two and comfortable, the alliance worth exactly 50.

Kohli and Pujara carried on after the break. The deficit was narrowing, Anderson was having a bad day, and India's grip on the match seemed to be increasing. Unexpectedly, though, Curran struck, removing Kohli for 46. The ball had been slanted across the Indian captain who needlessly pushed at it, away from the body. Root had waited 42 overs to introduce Ben Stokes, who was not fit enough to bowl at full speed. He was still good enough to trouble India's batsmen. At once, there was an impact, Pujara edging a ball that landed low to the wicket-keeper's right. Stokes then removed Rahane, expertly following up his away-swingers with one that extravagantly hooped in. Rahane was given out LBW; he reviewed the decision, and replays showed that Stokes had come very close to stepping over the line. However, third-umpire Joel Wilson ruled that it was not a no-ball.

Then on the stroke of tea, Rishabh Pant was pinned leg-before by Ali. The left-hander had struggled, going 29 balls without scoring when he was finally dismissed. Pujara walked off, sporting a big bump on his forehead after a bouncer from Stokes had crashed into his helmet. The balance appeared to have tilted England's way slightly, but Pujara was unperturbed.

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