Cheteshwar Pujara’s sixth Test ton, and first overseas, put India in a commanding position on the third day of the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.
At the Wanderers stadium, Pujara was 135 not out (221 balls, 18 fours) at stumps, putting on 191 runs for the third wicket with Virat Kohli, who was unbeaten on 77 runs (132 balls, eight fours), as India finished at 284 for two.
This gave the visitors a lead of 320 runs, with eight wickets remaining, after South Africa were dismissed for 244 in the first hour of the morning session. India had made 280 runs in their first innings.
Pujara was on 39 not out at tea-time, with Kohli batting on six runs. And they accelerated without too much concern straight off the blocks in the final session, as South Africa were badly missing Morne Morkel (0-4).
The fast bowler had slipped as the first session of play drew to a close, twisting his ankle, and will not be bowling again in the match. He will only be batting if absolutely necessary and is a major doubt for the second Test at Durban starting on December 26.
Skipper Graeme Smith put his pacers Vernon Philander (1-53) and Dale Steyn (0-64) in short bursts, with Jacques Kallis (1-51) for support. But the two batsmen were patient enough to see them off, and upped the ante when the spinners came on to bowl. Imran Tahir (0-55) was as ineffective as in the first innings and JP Duminy (0-42) just didn’t trouble them.
Pujara brought up his fifty in the 46th over, and then gave a simple return catch to Imran Tahir in the next over, but the leg-spinner dropped it, completing a ruinous day for his team. Pujara was on 51 at that time and did not look back thereafter. India crossed the 150-run mark in the 49th over, and the lead swelled to 200 runs in the 53rd.
There was no denying Kohli and Pujara as runs started coming at a fast clip. Their 100-run partnership came in the 57th over, as India reached 200 for two as well. In the 58th over, Kohli celebrated his half-century, coming on the heels of his hundred in the first innings.
By the 65th over, the lead had gone past 250 runs, as the last 10 overs of the Indian innings had resulted in 65 runs. Indeed, Kohli-Pujara scored at a run rate of 4.32 during their partnership lasting 44.1 overs.
In the 61st over, after drinks, Pujara drove Steyn to the boundary and completed his sixth Test hundred. He had scored only seven runs off his first 40 balls and then reached 101 runs off 169 balls, showing how completely dominant he was.
The ball was changed in the 67th over, as the Indian batsmen had beaten the previous one out of shape, while India's 250 runs came up the next over. Finally, the 300-run lead came in the 74th over, as the two batsmen looked to play for the close.
Earlier in the day, a 70-run stand between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara for the second wicket, saw India to 109 for two at the stroke of tea.
Vijay was the star of the one and a half sessions that India batted in their second innings before tea, taking the shine off the new ball with his patient and watchful approach. He rotated the strike with Pujara whenever possible, and then punished the fuller deliveries.
The duo brought up the India’s fifty in the second innings in the 23rd over. With a drinks break coming up, Imran Tahir came on to bowl and was taken for nine runs immediately. He didn’t bowl another over in the whole session, but in the one he bowled, India’s lead went past the 100-run mark as well as fifty came up for the Vijay-Pujara partnership.
Vijay was dismissed in the 34th over, edging Kallis down leg side, his hard work going to waste once again. He scored 39 runs off 94 balls, with five fours. Pujara carried on the good work meanwhile, as first innings’ centurion Virat Kohli came to bat. Immediately, South Africa upped the ante against him, with Steyn returning to bowl and setting fancy fields.
They even gave AB de Villiers (0-5) the last over before tea, in order to entice him, as Hashim Amla kept wicket, but it didn’t work as they saw India to tea without any further harm.
In the morning session, India had reached 31 for one. Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay began the second innings with an hour to play before lunch. Philander troubled the batsmen as the pitch got quicker on this third morning, adding pace to his nagging line and length.
He got Dhawan in the eighth over, the batsman edging to Kallis at second slip. He fell for 15 runs off 21 balls, with one boundary. This was Philander’s 100th Test wicket and it came in his 19th Test match, as he became the quickest South African bowler to reach the mark. He beat compatriot and attack-partner Dale Steyn’s mark of 20 Tests.
Pujara came out to bat and despite some nervy moments first up against Philander, he made sure that there were no more wickets lost until lunch.
Earlier, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma made short work of the South African tail in the morning session. They picked up the last four wickets for just 31 runs, as the Proteas crashed from their overnight score of 213 for six to be bowled out for 244 runs in less than an hour of the opening session on day three.
Zaheer finished with four for 88 from 26.3 overs, while Ishant returned four for 79 from 25 overs. Mohammad Shami was the other wicket-taker with figures of two for 48. Ravichandran Ashwin (0-25) only bowled six overs out of a total 75.3 sent down.
Vernon Philander and Faff du Plessis started to build on their 67-run partnership, looking to extend India’s time in the field.
Philander started the day with a boundary off the first ball, driving him through the covers and bringing up his fifty. But he couldn’t go on for long, edging Zaheer to first slip, with Ashwin, who had dropped Graeme Smith on day two, holding on this time. Philander was out for 59 runs, facing 86 balls, hitting seven fours.
At the other end, Ishant accounted for Steyn, as Rohit Sharma too held a smart catch at third slip, redeeming himself after dropping du Plessis late on day two. He scored 20 runs off 77 balls, with one four.
Morkel was the last man out in the 76th over of the innings, bowled by Zaheer. It ended the Proteas’ innings 36 runs short of India’s first innings total, as Imran Tahir (0) was unbeaten.
On day one, Virat Kohli’s fifth Test hundred, 119 off 181 balls, had powered India to 280 in their first innings. On day two, South African skipper Graeme Smith scored 68 before a batting collapse reduced them to 213 for six.
© Cricket World 2013