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Posted at: Mar 20, 2017, 2:31 AM; last updated: Mar 20, 2017, 4:47 PM (IST)

Pujara scripts a runathon

Day 4: Pujara’s 202, Saha’s ton take India to 603; Oz struggling at 23/2

Sabi Hussain

Tribune News Service

Ranchi, march 19

India started the fourth day’s play 91 runs behind Australia’s first innings total of 451. The hosts had just four wickets in hand and a spirited Australian bowling attack to fight off. The pitch had started misbehaving with the cracks opening up and the rough created by the fast bowlers’ footmarks assisting the spinners. 

But, the hosts had Cheteshwar Pujara (202) and Wriddhiman Saha (117) as the two warriors in the middle. Pujara had been shouldering India’s strong response in the first innings — almost single-handedly — since the final session of Day 2. He batted resolutely the entire third day and waged a battle to take the hosts closer to Australia’s target. Saha had joined Pujara in his battle in the final hours of the third day, but the task remained largely unfinished. The two knew the importance of each other’s company to turn the tables on the visitors when the play resumed on the fourth morning.

And, in the end, they did so in such a dominating fashion that Australia’s challenge in the third Test has been ground to dust. The two virtually batted out the visitors from the contest after putting up a match-defining 199-run partnership for the seventh wicket. Pujara’s third Test double hundred and Saha’s third Test century have put India firmly in the driver’s seat. Only something magical or another Steve Smith special could thwart India’s victory bid in this Test.

After India piled misery on the Australians by claiming a 152-run lead in the first innings, declaring their innings at 603 for 9, Ravindra Jadeja rubbed salt into Australia’s wound by dismissing opener David Warner (14) and night-watchman Nathan Lyon (2) in successive overs.

Huge challenge

At the draw of stumps, Australia were struggling at 23 for 2, still trailing India by 129 runs in their second innings. Matt Renshaw (7) survived the 7.4 overs which Australia faced in the remaining half-an-hour of the day’s play. The visitors face a huge challenge to stay relevant. Calling India to bat again looks a distant dream the way the fourth day panned out for the visitors. For nearly six sessions, India were playing a catch-up game. But today, India started dictating terms. They first erased the first innings deficit and then Jadeja hit a quick-fire unbeaten 55-ball 54. Australia’s morale further got crushed after Jadeja stitched a 54-run stand with Umesh Yadav (16) for the ninth wicket.

It all became possible because of Pujara and Saha’s valiant effort. Under the overcast conditions with floodlights on, both produced a masterclass of their own. While Pujara had been doing it so often in the marathon home season, it was heartening to watch Saha rising up to the challenge. His maiden Test hundred against Australia provided the hosts the impetus to dictate terms.

Luck on Saha’s side

India, starting the day at 360/6, could have lost Saha in the second over to an LBW verdict but he used the DRS to overturn the on-field umpire's decision. Pat Cummins delivery was clearly missing the leg-stump and the umpire had to reverse his decision. When on 59, Australia reviewed a not-out verdict for caught behind against Saha, but the ball had not made contact with the bat. Saha (51) was dropped by Matthew Wade behind the stumps, when he couldn’t latch on to a difficult chance off Steve O’Keefe. But Saha remained unfazed and played his natural game. He wasn’t shy of stepping out while playing the sweep shots regularly.

On the other hand, Pujara was in a sublime form as he played the longest-ever Test innings for India. 

Pujara, who was overnight 130, batted for almost 11 hours and nearly six sessions for his epic knock of 202, which came off 525 balls. The Australians tried to ruffle him, but he played like a man on mission. Not once did he try to take the aerial route and most of his shots remained grounded. He got out at short midwicket to Glenn Maxwell off Nathan Lyon only trying to accelerate the innings.

In Numbers

525 Balls faced by C Pujara — the most by an India batsman in a Test innings. The previous record was Rahul Dravid’s 495 deliveries for his career-best 270 in Rawalpindi in 2004. Pujara has made 11 double centuries in first-class matches. He has made three double-centuries in Tests, five in the Ranji Trophy, two for India A and one in the Duleep Trophy

2  Players who have made more double-centuries against Australia than Pujara. Walter Hammond scored four double-hundreds followed by Brian Lara with three

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