By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Dec 20, 2013
Cheteshwar Pujara stole the show with his sixth Test ton on Day Three of the first Test against South Africa at Johannesburg. South Africa were unable to overhaul India’s first innings total of 280 and conceded a 36-run lead early on the third day. In reply, Pujara rallied India and helped them build a good lead as they tighten the noose around the hosts with a lead of 320. India finished the day on 284 for two with Pujara unbeaten on 135 and Virat Kohli on 77.
South Africa resumed Day Three at 213 for six with Vernon Philander on song. He got things going with a few boundaries first up and was intent on making the most of the opportunities. Zaheer Khan then had him poking at one outside the off stump and Ravichandran Ashwin took the catch at first-slip. India breathed a huge sigh of relief as Philander headed back for a fighting knock of 59.
Later, Steyn was surprised with a short one that climbed and he edged it to Rohit at second slip. Du Plessis edged one off Zaheer to Dhoni as South Africa slipped further. Ultimately, Zaheer finished the innings by bowling Morne Morkel. He finished with figures of four for 88 and Ishant Sharma recorded four for 79.
India started their second innings in confident fashion with the Dhawan getting a few early boundaries. Even Murali Vijay got things going with a graceful drive down the ground. The pitch looked a lot better as the Indian openers were not tested too many times.
However, Philander started getting movement and setup Dhawan. After he let a few go through to the wicketkeeper, Dhawan was made to play at one around the off-stump and he was caught in the slips for 15. Pujara walked in and Philander tested him early. There were a few that shaped past his bat and when one did get the edge, it did not carry to Jacques Kallis at second slip. South Africa suffered a big blow just before lunch as Morkel hurt his leg while fielding. His leg got stuck in the ground and he looked in considerable pain as came crashing down.
Commencing the afternoon session at 31 for one, Vijay and Pujara continued to weather the storm. There was help for the fast-bowlers and they kept persisting with tight lines around the off-stump. The Indian batsmen were patient as they let those deliveries go through and defended anything on their stumps.
Pujara was looking to score of any opportunity. When one went off his pads to fine-leg, he sprinted through for two and just made it on time. On another occasion, he ran through for a bye when AB de Villiers failed to collect cleanly. A desperate dive at the non-striker’s end saw him through as the ball ricocheted off his stumps and they got two more.
Vijay looked in fluent touch as there was a good straight drive off Dale Steyn that carpeted along for a four. When Steyn bowled on his pads, he was flicked through the leg-side. The runs started coming more easily once they got their eye in. Imran Tahir was brought into the attack for a solitary over and he conceded nine.
Jacques Kallis then replaced Tahir and was cut by Pujara over point for a four. Pujara even essayed a good pull shot as Kallis was placed between the fielders at fine-leg and square-leg. However, the all-rounder halted the partnership as Vijay edged a delivery down the leg-side and de Villiers took the catch.
Kohli entered the stage and took his time to get off the mark. Steyn bowled a short delivery and he almost tried to pull it. It took a faint edge and went over de Villiers head for four.
After tea, both Kohli and Pujara were in full flow. Pujara picked up on the scoring rate and essayed beautiful shots. If it was full, he drove with good footwork and timing. Deliveries that were short and wide were punished through the off-side and they raced along for four. Even Virat Kohli punished anything on the legs and started from where he left in the first innings.
Imran Tahir bore the brunt of their fury. Both batsmen mercilessly punished him. Pujara in particular was severe as he dismissed the full-tosses and also hit the deft shots. While Kohli was scoring at a good rate, Pujara soon caught up and matched him for every stroke. He moved to a ton with a graceful cover-drive through the boundary for a four. There was a phase where Kohli moved from 52 to 54, Pujara had raced from 88 to 120.
It was great batting as there was nothing the South Africans could do to stop Pujara. He was in a mood to dominate and extend India’s score. Consider this: in the final session, India scored 175 runs, with Pujara scoring 96 of them. That was his class and dominance on display.
Day Four will present a different challenge for both sides, but one would say that India are in total control.
India 280 (Virat Kohli 119, Ajinkya Rahane 47; Vernon Philander 4 for 61, Morne Morkel 3 for 34) and 284 for 2 (Cheteshwar Pujara 135*, Virat Kohli 77*; Vernon Philander 1 for 53, Jacques Kallis 1 for 51) lead South Africa 244 (Graeme Smith 68, Vernon Philander 59; Zaheer Khan 4 for 88, Ishant Sharma 4 for 79, Mohammed Shami 2 for 48) by 320 runs.
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