NEW DELHI, Mar. 19: India's marathon man Cheteshwar Pujara extended his extraordinary form this home season by striking a third career Test double century during the fourth day of the Ranchi Test. Pujara was involved in a marvellous rescuing act with another centurion, Wriddhiman Saha as the two put on 199 runs for the seventh wicket to virtually shut the door on Australia's chances of winning the Test.
Pujara and Saha's outstanding effort ensured that India comfortably ascended into a 152-run before the innings was declared on 603/9. The final thrust was provided by none other than Ravindra Jadeja, who first scored an unbeaten 54 off 55 balls and then quickly snuffed out two wickets. India gave themselves eight overs to have a crack at the Australian batsmen in which the tourists scored 23 runs for the loss of David Warner and night watchman Nathan Lyon's wickets.
During the knock, Pujara consumed the most number of balls by an Indian batsman in an innings, overtaking Rahul Dravid's 495 deliveries during his 270 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004. Pujara also went past 1000 runs against Australia. Saha offered him wonderful support and scored a third and perhaps his most cherished Test hundred.
For two consecutive sessions, Australia had nothing to show in the wickets column as both batsmen blunted their attack on a surface that was no threat for the batsmen, despite run scoring not being easy. This was the first time since 1994 that Australia were kept on the field for 200 overs or beyond (against South Africa). Four of the five bowlers conceded over 100 runs.
Pujara was clinical in his approach. His footwork against Lyon and Steve O'Keefe was exemplary. His only moment of nervousness came when he was given out leg-before off Lyon in the 155th over. With just five overs remaining before India got back their allotted reviews, Pujara went upstairs, and the ball once again turned just about enough to miss leg.
Pat Cummins continued to impress and bowled his heart out. He bowled three overs full of bouncers for just five runs, enough to trouble the batsmen but just not enough to draw either into a false stroke. He then bowled well with the second new ball as well but remained devoid of a fifth wicket. O'Keefe was given a marathon spell, during which he mostly operated over the wicket and the batsmen were courteous enough to pad all those landing outside leg.
Saha, who was mostly quiet during the morning, began the session with a couple of boundaries off Cummins in consecutive overs, and was involved in the highest seventh wicket stand between these two sides in Tests. Australia were bowled into the ground. They did well to keep the scoring rate down but no wickets for two sessions seemed to have worn them down physically and mentally.
After wasting their first review in the morning session, Australia once again made a poor call to go upstairs when a Cummins delivery hit Saha on the chest on its way to the wicketkeeper.
Saha was given out leg before in the second over of the day, but the ball seemed to be missing leg on the referral. There onwards, he was chanceless. The next ball, he cover drove Cummins for four and there was no looking back. Against the reverse swing, he ensured he got the bat down in time and more importantly, in front of the pat. The only other time he sent the ball past the boundary was when he lofted Nathan Lyon over the deep midwicket. Saha was dropped by Matthew Wade soon after he had reached his fifty.
Both batsmen fell soon after tea in bid to accelerate. But just when Australia thought their long outing in the field was nearing its end, the Ranchi crowd was treated to some entertainment from Jadeja. Having already left his mark in the match with a five-wicket-haul during Australia's innings, Jadeja now made it count with the bat and ensured India's lead surpassed 150.
A couple of cuts off Hazlewood and Lyon for four helped him settle, before unleashing a few lusty blows. Lyon and O'Keefe were hit cleanly for sixes over their heads. In between, Umesh Yadav frustrated Australia even further with a couple of fours. A drive through wide long-off off Cummins brought up Jadeja's sixth Test fifty - first against Australia, and out came the swords. After the final ball of the over was guided towards the fine-leg boundary, Virat Kohli called back his players.
David Warner, who hasn't had the best of series, was entrusted with the responsibility of seeing Australia through to stumps unharmed. Warner, against his nemesis R Ashwin, hit three fours indicating he wasn't going to fiddle around much. Jadeja exploited the rough outside both left-handers' off stump which resulted in Warner's dismissal. Last over of the day, Jadeja struck once again, this time coming round the wicket as Lyon played the wrong line and was bowled.
Brief score: Australia 23/2 (David Warner 14, Ravindra Jadeja 2/6) trail India 603/9 decl (Cheteshwar Pujara 202, Wriddhiman Saha 117) by 129 runs.
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