Cheteshwar Pujara played the anchor’s role yet again with his third masterful hundred of the series, helping India dominate Australia on the opening day of the fourth and final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
India made a strong start by ending at 303/4 in 90 overs with opener Mayank Agarwal, another solid performer, continuing his good form with a 77-run knock.
At stumps, Pujara (130) and Hanuma Vihari (39) were holding fort, with India in pursuit of a maiden Test series triumph on Australian soil.
Virat Kohli’s men have already secured the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with their unassailable lead.
Pujara faced 250 balls, hitting 16 of them for fours, and added 75 runs for the unbeaten fifth wicket stand with Vihari.
Post tea, Australia was able to make a quick breakthrough as Virat Kohli (23) was caught down leg. The Australian bowlers consistently bowled towards the leg-stump against the Indian skipper, cramping him for room and the ploy worked as he gloved behind off Josh Hazlewood (2/51) in the first over after the break.
It brought Ajinkya Rahane (18) to the crease, who faced the same tactic. Cramping the batsmen for room, the host was able to put a check on the scoring rate as only 36 runs came in the first hour of play after tea.
Unlike his counter-attacking style in the first three Tests, Rahane was subdued on this occasion as he looked to settle down. But Mitchell Starc (1/75) had him caught behind in the 71st over with a sharp-rising unplayable bouncer.
India crossed 200 in the 63rd over, but needed a partnership and Vihari proved to be a handy partner for Pujara as the duo put on 50 runs in 72 balls.
Vihari kept the scoreboard ticking with minimum fuss, at a strike-rate of 67.2.
He took pressure off Pujara at the other end, who was solid as ever, and celebrated his 18th Test hundred off 199 balls. In doing so, he went past 438 runs against England in 2012-13 as the most he had scored previously in a Test series.
This was also the fourth time he faced 200-plus deliveries in the current series, going past Sunil Gavaskar’s record of three such instances back in 1977-78.
India’s Mayank Agarwal goes over the top during his innings of 71. – AFP
Earlier, Pujara put on 54 runs with Kohli as India reached 177/2 at tea. Post lunch, Agarwal and Pujara continued their second-wicket partnership to 116 runs. The duo put on an attacking show after the break, with their 100-run stand coming off 178 balls.
Agarwal reached his second Test half-century off 96 balls, inclusive of two sixes against Nathan Lyon (1-88) as the two batsmen rotated strike well and kept the scoreboard ticking.
Agarwal looked good for a hundred but threw it away when he holed out in the deep off Lyon in the 34th over and walked back shaking his head at an unnecessary shot.
Kohli then walked out to boos for the fourth Test running, but got going immediately with an immaculate cover drive. Australia resorted to more conservative bowling and kept his scoring rate in check.
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Earlier, things didn’t change much for KL Rahul (9) despite missing the Melbourne Test, as he edged twice in the first four balls faced only for the ball to go to the boundary.
He didn’t last long however, edging Hazlewood to first slip in the second over, and his nightmare run on this tour continued.
This was the sixth opening pairing for India in 12 overseas Tests since January 2018, and only averages 21.56 in 23 overseas innings.
At the other end, Agarwal settled down and stroked a couple of cover drives. He looked solid in comparison to his Karnataka teammate and along with Pujara, drove the Indian run-rate forward.