For the second consecutive day in the Boxing Day Test, Australia spent long hours toiling away on the lifeless Melbourne wicket. Cheteshwar Pujara slammed his 17th ton, Virat Kohli was unlucky to miss one and Rohit Sharma did his Test causes a world of good with a solid fifty. After 1018 balls and three new balls, India finally declared on 443/7 and the Australian openers survived a testing spell from Jasprit Bumrah to ensure India held the advantage at the conclusion of an absorbing day’s play at the G. At the start of the day though, Pujara and Kohli displayed their class and Australia’s bowlers, with the exception of Pat Cummins, felt the heat.
On day 1, Pujara had focused primarily on stonewalling the Australian pacers and he ensured India did not suffer any jolts on a wicket that was good for batting. On the second day, the Saurashtra right-hander continued to play straight and took minimal risks. He played Nathan Lyon, his chief-tormentor, well by using his feet and getting to the pitch of the ball with ease. He continued to be at ease against the short ball, employing the cut shot well against Josh Hazlewood and Cummins. At the other end, Cummins bowled with tremendous skill and was unlucky to have not gotten Kohli’s outside edge as the Indian captain hung on. Kohli played some loose shots outside off stump but the Australian fielders could not capitalise.
Pujara notched up the landmark in grand style as he danced down the track to Lyon and thumped him to the long-off fence to bring up the landmark. Pujara’s joyous celebrations summed up the mood as to how desperately he wanted to hit a century in Melbourne. The right-hander’s second century in the series, following his match-winning ton in Adelaide, was the fourth instance when Pujara has scored two centuries in a series. Australia ended the session without taking a single wicket and it seemed a total in excess of 500 was on the cards.
In the second session, India looked to up the ante but Australia was given a stroke of good luck. On 74, Kohli pulled a short ball from Mitchell Starc to the deep square leg fence. However, he went after the shot so hard that he jarred his back and was in considerable discomfort. Physio Patrick Farhart attended to him and gave him some pain killers but the pain had not eased. Kohli hit a boundary off Starc to move into the 80s but with his back giving him trouble, the batsman upper-cut the next short ball to third man but Aaron Finch settled under the catch near the boundary to end the skipper's superb effort. However, Kohli still had a record to his name as he went past VVS Laxman’s tally of most runs against Australia in Tests Down Under.
Pujara was cleaned up by a leg-cutter from Cummins which stayed low and he fell for 106. However, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma strung a solid stand with both players helping India near 400. Lyon, who had gone wicketless for 40 overs, came back and trapped Rahane (34) LBW with an offbreak that kept low. It was the ninth time that Lyon accounted for Rahane, the most he has dismissed any player in his career.
Rohit smoothly moved to his 10th fifty and Rishabh Pant struck some aggressive boundaries but the asking rate never went over three runs. When Pant and Ravindra Jadeja fell in quick succession, Kohli signaled his intent for a win by declaring. With a tricky 25-minute period for Australia to survive, Marcus Harris and Finch had a tough task. Jasprit Bumrah hit Harris on the helmet and both batsmen survived some the spell to end the day unscathed.
However, the efforts of Pujara and the Indian middle order on a pitch that is starting to show variable bounce has gone a long way in ensuring India’s grip on the Boxing Day Test is firm.