SYDNEY: Cheteshwar Pujara stood firm with a century and Mayank Agarwal continued to impress on a day when the Indian batting wore down the Australian pace attack in Sydney.
Pujara brought up his third hundred of the tour, to go with two other fifties, finishing unbeaten on a patient 130 off 250 balls. It guided India to a healthy 303/4 at stumps on the opening day of the final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday, 3 January.
Giving him company was Hanuma Vihari, batting on 39; the fifth-wicket stand is already worth 75. Pujara came in to bat early in the day – in the second over, in fact – after India chose to bat. The returning KL Rahul had found no change in fortune and was back in the hut with another single-digit score, edging an easy catch to first slip off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood.
Initially, the No.3 was content as ever to defend sturdily. It provided the perfect foil for Agarwal, who took the attack to the Australian bowlers even as the batsmen were peppered with a combination of short balls and lively seaming deliveries.
The youngster, playing only his second Test, didn’t look quite at ease against the ones that rose, especially against Mitchell Starc, but backed his technique to keep his eyes on the ball and drive down the ground. He took on Nathan Lyon, stepping out to smash the off-spinner for a couple of sixes down the ground. However, he paid the price for trying to hit one too many when he was caught by Starc at long-on for his highest Test score of 77.
Virat Kohli was, surprisingly, more circumspect than Pujara. Yet, the second session brought India 108 runs, taking them to 177/2 at tea.
Hazlewood struck right after the break for the big wicket of Kohli as the Indian captain gloved one down the leg side. Ajinkya Rahane was then undone by a ripping short ball from Starc – he tried to sway away but the ball caught his glove on the way to the wicket-keeper.
Pujara, meanwhile, carried on as only he can. His hundred – the 18th of his career – came up with a flick off Starc to mid-wicket. It had taken him 199 balls, and took him past 1000 deliveries for the series. But for a review he survived off the bowling of Pat Cummins and another delivery from the same bowler before lunch that struck him on the back of his helmet, he remained in full control. Getting together with Vihari, he scored at a fairly brisk rate.
As for Vihari, he looked in fine touch, back at his familiar position in the middle order. While he had showed great patience when asked to open in Melbourne, here he didn’t hesitate to play his shots. There were five boundaries in his 58-ball 39. While Starc got the batsmen to duck and weave, he was also the most expensive, going for 75 runs in his 18 overs.