India vs England: Cheteshwar Pujara hits brilliant century, keeps India just ahead
Cheteshwar Pujara ended an almost five-year wait for a century outside the sub-continent, and the Indian dressing room will be grateful of his timing to come good with the team in dire need of redeeming act in the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl on Friday.
The India No 3 scored only his second Test outside the sub-continent, ending his wait since a 153 at Johannesburg on the 2013-14 tour, marking a turnaround in a career that has seen more dips than highs since then.
Pujara’s sheer tenacity made the difference between India taking a handy 27-run first innings lead, having dismissed England for 246 on Day 1, and completely throwing away the advantage set up by their bowlers.
The almost six-hour effort would have gone on — he was 132 not out when India were 273 all out — but for India’s lower order batsmen throwing away their wickets, none more shocking than R Ashwin playing on to his stumps attempting a reverse-sweep against off-spinner Moeen Ali when he had to back his partner. England were six for no loss in their second innings.
Moeen made a sensational Test comeback, triggering a lower order collapse with four wickets in 17 deliveries, finishing with 5/63. It was his eight-wicket haul, including six in the second innings, which led to an India defeat here four years ago.
It dashed Indian hopes of a decent first-innings lead on a track where batting last will be a big disadvantage. Moeen had his five-for when he had Ishant Sharma caught off bat and pad, but the No 10, as he always does, had given Pujara vital support with a 27-ball 14, helping him close in on his 15th century.
Pujara farmed the strike with last man Jasprit Bumrah in, and his heart was in his mouth when England reviewed a leg before decision off Moeen. He lofted Moeen for a couple to reach his century — a reward for a player who values grinding it out in tough conditions.
It was a brave effort by Pujara, who scored 72 in Trent Bridge. On 57, a Stokes bouncer hit him on the helmet, causing a dent. He then ducked into an Anderson delivery to take a glancing blow.
A packed crowd had come to see England fight back and they got their money’s worth. But those hoping for another Virat Kohli special were only half satisfied. Kohli, coming in after scoring two centuries and fifties each, became the second fastest Indian to complete 6,000 Test runs. Needing six at the start of his 119thinnings, he got there only behind Sunil Gavaskar (117 innings) but got there faster than Sachin Tendulkar (120 innings).
He started brightly but struggled for focus against seam and Moeen, after he came on before lunch. Kohli and Pujara added 92 runs for the third wicket when the India captain, a picture of discipline playing deliveries outside off-stump, pushed at a Sam Curran delivery to be caught at slip for 46.
Pujara edged a four to get to fifty, but batted with assurance and steadily after needing 12 deliveries to get off the mark. But it was mayhem at the other end. Ben Stokes, bowling with a dodgy knee, started it by having Ajinkya Rahane (11) leg before.
Rishabh Pant, at No 6, uncharacteristically blocked everything before falling leg-before to Moeen for a 29-ball duck. Hardik Pandya flicked Moeen to Joe Root at short midwicket before Ashwin’s shocker came. Moeen bowled Mohammed Shami first ball to be on a hat-trick which Ishant denied.
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