Pujara lords over batting shambles



Cheteshwar Pujara batted 246 deliveries for his fighting 123. © Getty

India’s start to the much-hyped series got off to a disastrous start with their batsmen seemingly competing for the worst shot played on the day. The lone exception was Cheteshwar Pujara who hit his 16th Test ton (123 off 246) and saved India some blushes as they reached 250/9 at stumps on the opening day. Winning the toss was an advantage for Virat Kohli on the Adelaide Oval pitch but India’s batting, yet again, failed to come to terms with Australia’s persistence.

Josh Hazlewood set the tone early with a probing first over which also resulted in KL Rahul edging a full, wide ball to third slip. With the template set, Australia’s pacers continued to induce false drives that resulted in catches all across the cordon behind the wicket with the exception of first slip.

Murali Vijay was tested on both edges by Hazlewood, and by the short ball from Mitchell Starc, before finally falling through a soft drive. Kohli came in with similar intent, but that too yielded similar result. Cummins got the Indian captain in his first over with much credit to Usman Khawaja’s stunning one-handed grab at gully. At 19/3 in the 11th over, the toss advantage had been nullified.

With the introduction of Nathan Lyon, Australia could have had a fourth straightaway with Rahane turning one to short leg. Peter Handscomb couldn’t latch on to the sharp chance but that triggered a small one-upmanship battle between the two. Rahane would step out in the next over to loft Lyon for a six, and then continue to use his feet to unsettle the spinner.

Just when there was a semblance of a partnership building though, Hazlewood struck and once again, through an inexplicable, loose drive from Rahane.

With some extra batting cushion with the inclusion of Rohit Sharma, India still had the depth to stage a comeback. And Rohit, along with Pujara, steadied the ship for a while, putting on 45 runs. Rohit though was increasingly on the attack, hitting as many as three sixes in his 37. The last of which though came with Marcus Harris overbalancing beyond the ropes after taking the catch. But Rohit was not done with the intended attack against Lyon. He tried another loft off the next ball and skied a simpler catch to Harris.

Rishabh Pant’s brief stay saw him play a mix of wild swings and watchful defence but he too fell, nicking a Lyon off-break for 25.

Through the flurry of wickets, Pujara remained steady at the other end, scoring an unbeaten 46 by the Tea interval and upping the ante in the final session. After a 67-run stand with Ravichandran Ashwin for the seventh wicket was ended by Pat Cummins, Pujara switched modes to push for runs. The cut, the pull and punched-drives were brought out of the closet as Pujara remained intent on keeping the strike and racking up a hundred in the process. He was eventually run out for 123, bring to close a day of what-ifs for the visitors.

Brief Scores: India 250/9 (Cheteshwar Pujara 123; Pat Cummins 2-49, Nathan Lyon 2-51) vs Australia

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