MCG Test: Australia end day two at 8/0 after India pile up 443/7
Cheteshwar Pujara top-scored for India with 106. © AFP

That India wanted to bat once at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was obvious. Their first innings spanned 169.3 overs and ended at 443/7, after a hundred to  Cheteshwar Pujara and fifties to Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma as Australia toiled on a wearing track on Thursday. With the MCG pitch playing slow and low, India’s bowlers – in particular Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja – could prove definitive with a big total on the board.

The hosts claimed their first wicket after two wicketless sessions and 68 overs, when a tired Kohli (82) uppercut Mitchell Starc to third man. Moments later, Pujara was bowled for 106 to give the unrelenting Pat Cummins his third wicket of the innings, but Rohit (63*) marched on with Ajinkya Rahane (34) and Rishabh Pant (39) adding to a burgeoning total.

All told, India scored 228 runs in 80.4 overs. Wickets were hard to come by, as was scoring on an up-and-down surface.

Kohli and Pujara, who secured his 17th Test hundred shortly before lunch, put on 170 for the third wicket. Kohli looked firmly in sight of his 26th Test hundred until – after battling stiffness of the back – found Aaron Finch at third man. His innings needed 204 balls – the second time in three innings Kohli has faced 200 – and came to an end with that tired shot. Given how hard Australia’s bowlers had tried, it did seem apparent that a lapse in concentration from the set batsmen would bring the breakthrough. (FULL SCORECARD: INDIA vs AUSTRALIA, MCG TEST)

Eleven balls later, Pujara got a grubber from Cummins that crept above his ankles and hit the stumps. The contrast in wicket modes could not have been more stark. Pujara’s 106 encompassed 319 deliveries, which means that he’s faced 883 in the series. Only in one other series has Pujara faced more: 1049 during the previous edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2017.

Rohit collected his tenth Test fifty – and first in over a year – before the declaration came at 443 as soon as Jadeja was bounced out by Josh Hazlewood.

That gave Australia seven overs to bat and

Leading the grind was Pujara with a century  that underlined his durability and unflappability when hell-bent on occupying the crease. He is a player who likes to graft with the best of them, and his 17th Test hundred was a special one that has kept India ahead of Australia.

In the morning, Pujara moved from 68 to his hundred while adopting the same approach as he had on day one. He nudged, deflected and left with confidence and his twinkle-toed brilliance to Nathan Lyon nullified the threat of the offspinner. A fierce square-drive for four off Starc wide of point put him into the eighties, an even better shot wide of mid-on for four off Lyon got him into the nineties. A flourishing punch past mid-off took him from 96 to 100, which sparked a broad smile and acknowledgement of an MCG Test hundred. Two hundreds in three Tests in Australia are a considerable feat of concentration and determination.

Rohit Sharma's 63* is his tenth Test fifty, and first since December 2017.
Rohit Sharma’s 63* is his tenth Test fifty, and first since December 2017. © AFP

Kohli was made slightly uncomfortable during a testing spell by Cummins, who beat the edge numerous times with a series of well-directed swinging deliveries at pace. When Cummins dragged back the length, Kohli was forced to stand tall and deflect the ball. There were no shots of bravado against Cummins, but that did not perturb Kohli for he and Pujara were determined to see out the session.

Back in the XI after missing the Perth Test, Rohit had to shelve his natural ways to grind it out against a very testing Lyon while trying to block out a chirpy Tim Paine behind the stumps who constantly referred to the batsman’s IPL exploits. At tea, he was 13 from 52 deliveries. With the final delivery of his 40th over, Nathan Lyon won his first wicket when Rahane (34) was trapped in front of the stumps when playing back to a ball that kept very low. Rohit, dropped on 15 by the substitute fielder Peter Siddle at short fine when top-edging a sweep off Lyon, was 27 off 70 when Pant arrived and moved to his fifty off 97 deliveries.

Pant, on 38, charged Lyon and was put down by Cummins at long-on, another straightforward chance put down. A slog at Starc saw him top-edge to point, having put on 76 with Rohit. Jadeja slapped his first ball over mid-off for four and fell next ball.

Marcus Harris and Aaron Finch negotiated six tricky overs before stumps, during which time Harris copped a blow to the helmet from a Jasprit Bumrah delivery that didn’t sit up a much as expected. That ushered in the team physio, which Australia readily used as an opportunity to delay another over on a wearing surface.

Stumps: Australia 8/0 trail India 443/7 declared (Pujara 106, Kohli 82, Rohit 63*) by 435 runs