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Vijay, Pujara lead India's fightback with tons

November 11, 2016 17:46 IST

IMAGE: Murali Vijay, left, celebrates after completing his century with Cheteshwar Pujara on Day 3. Photograph: BCCI

Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara led India's determined response to England's mammoth first innings total of 537 as they struck dogged hundreds to guide the hosts to 319 for four on the third day of the first Test in Rajkot, on Friday.

- Scorecard

Showing great fortitude in the face of a daunting challenge, Vijay played a typically gritty innings of 126 in 301 balls, while one-down batsman Pujara stroked a fluent 124 in 206 balls.

The duo forged a huge second-wicket stand of 209 to help India give an apt reply to England's massive first innings score of 537.

England fought back late in the day by dismissing the well-set Vijay, who hit nine fours and four sixes in his marathon 485-minute innings, and night watchman Amit Mishra (0) in the space of four balls.

At stumps, India had replied with 319 for four, still 218 runs behind the visitors' tally with six wickets in hand on a track that showed some signs of wear and tear but did not hold many terrors for the Indian batsmen.

The post-tea dismissals of the well-entrenched Pujara and Vijay, five minutes before close, and then Mishra off the last ball, has given big hopes to the visitors to apply pressure on the hosts on Day 4.

Pujara was out chasing a wide ball from Ben Stokes while Vijay and Mishra were dismissed by Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari respectively.

But unless India suffer a dramatic collapse, the game looks headed for a tame draw on a wicket still not offering much for the bowlers.

The Rajkot-born Pujara was the more aggressive batsman in the second-wicket pair in his home venue and notched up his ninth Test hundred overall in his 39th Test. His innings was laced with 17 hits to the fence.

Vijay, on the other hand, was not averse to playing the second fiddle to Pujara. The duo had previously compiled five three-figure stands, including a mammoth 370 against Australia in Hyderabad three years ago. This stand was also their second in excess of 200.

Vijay also carried on bravely after taking a nasty knock on his knee from Chris Woakes after completing his hundred.

The way the second-wicket duo complemented each other was an indication of how well they jelled together today and in the past with different styles of batting.

Chennai-born Vijay scored his seventh Test hundred and second against the visiting team, also his first since a knock of 150 against Bangladesh at Fatullah in March last year.

Cheteshwar Pujara

IMAGE: A delighted Cheteshwar Pujara after completing his century in Rajkot. Photograph: BCCI

Both Vijay and Pujara had their moments of luck.

A dropped catch off Stuart Broad reprieved Vijay on 66 and the Decision Review System -- being used in a Test series in India for the first time -- came to Pujara's help when he was 14 short of his hundred.

The duo came together early in the morning after the fall of Gautam Gambhir in the second over and batted out the first two sessions before Pujara fell in the last. 

Pujara's attacking instincts helped India add 99 runs in the first session in 30 overs, before some tight bowling by England restricted the scoring. The hosts eventually put on just 66 runs in 29 overs in the middle session from lunch to tea.

Pujara was out in the post-tea session, slashing at a wide ball from Ben Stokes and was caught by visiting team captain Alastair Cook much to his own and his home crowd's disappointment. It was also the breakthrough England desperately needed.

It was the 28-year-old Rajkot born player's third hundred against the visitors, and his seventh on home soil. He had scored 206 not out and 135 against the same opponents on their visit to India four years ago.

The beautifully crafted innings saw Pujara play some superb drives, cuts and flicks during his 298-minute stay. Pujara was lucky to be reprieved on 86 before tea by the Decision Review System.

Umpire Chris Gaffaney upheld the appeal from Zafar Ansari after Pujara, on 86 in a team score of 208 for 1, was rapped on the back leg, playing down the wrong line while defending.

The two batsmen after a short consultation asked for a review and the ball-tracker system found the ball going just over the stumps to give Pujara and India a big reprieve.

He was on 99 at tea and then reached the milestone in the first over after resumption of play.

Pujara and Vijay showed grit aplenty against some tight and probing bowling, especially from Broad and Chris Woakes to remain unconquered after batting for nearly the entire duration of two sessions.

The lone batsman to be dismissed in the morning session was left-handed opener Gambhir, who fell in the second over to Broad, after which Vijay and Pujara held fort till the end of the second session.

Vijay and Gambhir had started well on Thursday evening to put on an unfinished half century stand, but the latter departed early on Day 3 after adding just one to his overnight 28, to the seventh ball of the day.

The Delhi opener, on a comeback trail after being in the wilderness for more than two years, was trapped right in front of the stumps by Broad with the first ball of his morning spell.

It was a big blow in their quest of replying strongly to England's third-highest ever score in India.

The daunting task was then taken up in earnest by Vijay  and new batsman Pujara, who was confidence personified from the first ball he faced. He drove Broad in the off-side region for a sweetly-timed four.

With Vijay playing the ideal foil, Pujara set about getting the runs -- quite a few of them with well timed boundary on either side of the wicket.

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