Cheteshwar Pujara’s ton in Adelaide gave India a win in the first match of a Test series Down Under for the first time ever. His ton in Melbourne helped Virat Kohli’s side erase 37 years of pain to win by 137 runs and retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy. In the New Year, Pujara’s appetite for runs did not wane and his third century in the series has potentially given India the decisive advantage in their quest to achieve a maiden Test series win in Australia. The Saurashtra right-hander’s 18th century, combined with an aggressive fifty from Mayank Agarwal (77) helped India reach 303/4 at stumps on day 1 of the fourth and final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.
Pujara’s feat has matched Sunil Gavaskar who hit three centuries in a single series during the 1977/78 series which India lost 2-3. Virat Kohli is the other player to have hit four centuries in a single series during the 2014/15 series Down Under which India lost 0-2. However, Pujara’s batting has given India confidence that all the years of pain in Australia might be finally erased after Virat Kohli won a decisive toss on a green pitch and chose to bat.
Kuldeep Yadav and KL Rahul were the additions in the Indian side, with Ravichandran Ashwin failing to recover from the left side strain. For Australia, Marnus Labuschagne was added and Aaron Finch, along with Mitchell Marsh was shown the door. It was Tim Paine’s side who struck first, with Josh Hazlewood getting an out-of-sorts KL Rahul (9) to edge to Shaun Marsh at slip. Four years ago, Rahul had scored a century that propelled him into the limelight. Now, in 2019, this latest failure could raise question marks on his future.
Agarwal squanders ton chance
However, that was all Australia could achieve in the first session, with Agarwal, fresh from a sparkling debut in the Melbourne game and Pujara blunting the new ball and surviving a testing first hour. Australia bowlers, particularly Starc resorted to a bouncer barrage in order to unsettle Agarwal and despite taking some blows, he managed to survive. At the other end, Pujara was like the rock, unflappable and defiant.
Following the lunch break, both players opened up in style. Agarwal signaled his intent by lofting Nathan Lyon for two sixes straight down the ground. Having gone past his highest individual score, the Karnataka batsman looked good for a century but in a rush of blood, he miscued Lyon to be caught at long on by Starc to squander the chance of a century. Pujara, though, remained unflappable and he continued to be the peg around which the innings revolved.
Kohli, who became the fastest to 19000 runs in just his 399th innings, signaled his intent well and stitched a solid stand with a couple of crisp shots. However, in the first over after the tea break, Hazlewood bowled a short ball on the leg stump and the Indian skipper looked to glance it. However, the ball hit the glove and Tim Paine took a good catch diving to his left to send Kohli packing for 23. Ajinkya Rahane’s (18) underwhelming show continued as he was sent back by a brutal bouncer from Starc but Pujara would not be denied.
History for Pujara
The Saurashtra right-hander found an able ally in Hanuma Vihari and the duo ensured there were no further jolts. Pujara notched up his 18th century by flicking Starc to the deep backward square leg boundary. In the process, he also went past his previous best tally of runs in the series and also faced over 1050 deliveries. With Vihari giving him ample support, both players withstood the second new ball as India crossed 300.
Come day 2, Pujara’s knock has put him on course to break several records, but Indian cricket is on the cusp of something historic and Pujara’s knock brought the dream one step closer to reality.