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India vs Australia: Pujara and Co Make Australia Grind as India Grab Advantage on Day 2

Cricketnext Staff | Updated: December 27, 2018, 2:49 PM IST
India vs Australia: Pujara and Co Make Australia Grind as India Grab Advantage on Day 2

Pujara after his century (@BCCI)

The frustration was visible on the face of Australian bowlers who were forced to toil hard in the Melbourne heat by Indian batsmen on the second day of the Boxing Day Test on Thursday (December 27). Chances dropped and so did the shoulders as India piled on Australia's agony to take command of the third Test.

After Cheteshwar Pujara (106) and Virat Kohli (82) added 170 runs for the third wicket, the likes of Rohit Sharma (63*), Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant too joined the feast as India declared their innings on 443 for 7 in 169.4 overs at the stroke of Day 2. All Aussie bowlers — Mitchell Starc (28 overs), Josh Hazlewood (31.4 overs), Nathan Lyon (48 overs), Pat Cummins (34 overs) and Mitchell Marsh (26 overs) — had to work extremely hard on the unhelpful MCG track.

In reply, Australian openers somehow managed to see off the nervy seven-over period. The hosts were eight without loss in six overs, still trailing by 435 runs, with openers Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris unbeaten on three and five respectively when the stumps were drawn.

Resuming the second day 215 for 2, overnight batsmen Pujara and Kohli made sure that India didn't lose an early wicket. It didn't take the Indian skipper too long to get the three runs as he whipped Cummins towards the on-side in the very first over to bring up his 21st half-century. Both Kohli and Pujara were beaten a couple of times at the start but kept moving forward with the same approach.

Australian captain Tim Paine tried everything but couldn't get the breakthrough. In the process, Pujara got to his 17th Test century with his usual shimmy down the track and whip-drive down the ground for a boundary. It took him 280 deliveries — most ever by him — to get to that three-figure mark but the level of concentration he showed was extraordinary. India managed to bat out the entire first session without losing any wicket but could only accumulate 62 runs.

Meanwhile, Kohli, who had earlier seen the physio after appearing to hurt his back, was finally dismissed by Starc few overs after lunch. The batting maestro had hit a four off the previous delivery and was attempting another on the next ball when he upper cut it straight into the hands of third man Finch. It deprived Kohli of a 26th Test century and the chance to surpass the great Sachin Tendulkar by making the seventh hundred in Australia. They remain tied on six each. However, he did go past VVS Laxman's tally of 1,236 runs in Australia. Kohli, who hit nine fours in his innings, now has 1,251 runs in Australia and is only behind Tendulkar (1,809 runs) in the list of Indian players with the most number of runs Down Under.

A stoic Pujara had been unflappable in his 319-ball innings until Cummins sent down a rocket that stayed quite low, breaching his defence and clattered into the stumps. Pujara, who has scored more runs and faced more balls than any other batsman in the series, added only three to his lunch score of 103. He crafted 10 fours during his stay in the middle, but India all of a sudden were left with two new batsmen in the middle.

India were yet to touch the 300-run mark and the onus was on Rahane (34) and Rohit to make sure they don't allow the home team to make a comeback in this encounter. The two took their time and added solid 62 runs for the fifth wicket. Surprisingly, Rahane was a bit more aggressive at the start while Rohit only opened up after he smashed Hazlewood's short delivery for a boundary.

It took a dozen plays-and-misses, half a dozen edges to fall safely and 40 overs for Lyon to finally get his first wicket. The ball kept very low and pinned Rahane right in front of the stumps. This was the ninth time Lyon has accounted for Rahane — most he has dismissed any player.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Pant stepped out with an uncharacteristic approach and was focusing more on defence rather than playing his natural game. Meanwhile, Lyon kept bowling the right line and length and produced two very easy chances, but found no support from the fielders. It was Rohit who first got the extra lifeline when Peter Siddle dropped a sitter at backward square leg, while Pant, who has been dismissed by Lyon all the four times in this series, smoked one straight to Cummins at long-on but the paceman failed to grab it.

Rohit slowly and steadily started to get into his groove and even found some support from Australian bowlers who kept bowling short at him. The 31-year-old got to his 10th Test fifty and along with Pant, pushed India past 400.

Meanwhile, Pant opted not to go after Lyon and tucked him here and there, focusing more on strike rotation. However, things began to heat up between Starc and Pant when the latter once ran very close to the danger area on the pitch.

The left-hander then smashed one of the half-volleys straight past Starc for four before falling to the pacer in the very next ball. The batsman from Delhi managed 39 runs and also shared 76 runs for the sixth wicket. Ravindra Jadeja (4) fell in the next over and that's when Kohli brought the curtains down of India's innings.
First Published: December 27, 2018, 12:55 PM IST

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