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Pujara’s maiden hundred in Australia bails India out of trouble

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Pujara

Adelaide | Cheteshwar Pujara rose to the occasion with a maiden century in Australia, pulling India out of a deep hole to a respectable 250 for nine on day one of the first Test here on Thursday.

Pujara showed the same grit and gumption that is typical of him en route a 246-ball 123 that kept India in the game after being reduced to 127 for six in the 50th over.  It took a brilliant direct from Pat Cummins to remove him on what happened to be the final ball of an absorbing day one of the four-Test series.

Skipper Virat Kohli opted to bat in ideal conditions but the top-order once again failed to apply themselves against the potent pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins.  Anything close to 250 looked a mountain to climb with India reeling at 56 for four at lunch. But Pujara stood tall amid the ruins to save India from embarrassment on way to his 16th Test ton. His fighting effort comprised seven fours and two sixes.

The 30-year-old put on two crucial partnerships with the lower-order batsmen to ensure India give their bowlers something to bowl at. Post tea, Pujara added 62 runs with R Ashwin (25) for the seventh wicket. The latter played watchfully, unlike the Indian top-order, and played a great role in this minor recovery. Cummins (2-49) finally got the breakthrough in the 74th over when Ashwin edged to second slip. Ishant Sharma (4) then put on 21 runs with Pujara, pushing the score past 200 in the 79th over. Ishant survived a loud lbw shout via DRS, but Mitchell Starc (2-63) bowled him with a fuller delivery thereafter. As he started to run out of partners, Pujara hit a few lusty blows to gather some quick runs.

Earlier, Pujara’s effort was the sole silver lining after India were reduced to 143-6 at tea. This was after a horrendous shot selection by Rohit Sharma (37) left India in the lurch at 86 for five in the 38th over. Post lunch, Rohit and Pujara started off well as they added 45 runs for the fifth wicket.

While Pujara was sedate at one end, the former took the lead in scoring as he hit sixes at will. Two came off Cummins; the first a pull shot that sailed for six and the other a proper cover drive that cleared the ropes as well. It seemed that Rohit was intent on digging India out of this hole as he hit Nathan Lyon (2-83) for a six on the second ball of the 38th over. Marcus Harris almost caught it, with the ball barely crossing over the ropes and the umpire took some time to call it a six. That should have been a note of caution for the batsman, but he didn’t heed it and skied the very next ball for Harris to take an easy catch in the deep.

Rishabh Pant (25) too arrived at the crease with intent of attacking the bowling. He scored two fours and a six in the space of a few deliveries, before Pujara asked him to calm down. The duo then added 41 runs for the sixth wicket as India crossed 100 in the 41st over, including five sixes surprisingly. Pant didn’t look comfortable though as he was forced to play against his natural game. And it showed when he edged Lyon behind to be dismissed shortly before tea.

In the morning session, Hazlewood (2-52) reduced India to 56 for four. The Australian pacers struck regularly with the new Kookaburra ball and made inroads into the Indian top-order that never got going. Hanuma Vihari was left out as the visitors drafted in Rohit for the number six spot. For Australia, Marcus Harris made his Test debut as announced a day prior. Starc and Hazelwood began proceedings for Australia, and were on the money straightaway with their lengths.

Of the two Indian openers, KL Rahul (2) looked out of sorts against their express pace, and was unsurprisingly dismissed cheaply. He went for an extravagant drive in only the second over and was caught at third slip off Hazlewood. Murali Vijay (11) looked intent on getting a better start and he was watchful. On a couple occasions, he drove the ball to get the score moving but ultimately this led to his dismissal. In the seventh over, Vijay went for a cover drive against Starc and only ended up edging behind.

Given the conditions, Kohli then walked out to bat a lot earlier than anticipated. He looked a lot more confident, but an awe-inducing diving catch ended his short stay at the crease. Usman Khawaja dove to his left and held a stunning one-handed catch at gully off Cummins as Kohli was sent back with India reeling at 19-3 in 11 overs.

Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane (13) then came together for the fourth wicket, trying to put on a semblance of a partnership. Together they faced 59 balls and put on 22 runs in a bid to keep the scoreboard ticking. Rahane had some difficulty against Lyon who came on to bowl immediately after the drinks’ break. The batsman then stepped out to even hit Lyon for a six over long on in his second over.

But this didn’t work against the pacers, who pushed Indian batsmen back with their perfect length and induced drives thereafter. In the 21st over then, Rahane fell to Hazelwood, the fourth batsman out driving in this morning session, and was caught at second slip.

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Pacers need to be protected like race horses : Bharat Arun

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Perth | The impressive Indian fast bowlers are like racehorses, who need to be protected and handled carefully, says India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun, who avowed that the current lot is one of the best the country has seen. The Indian pacers, and the entire attack as a whole has been impressive on all overseas tours this year.

In South Africa they picked up all 60 wickets in three Tests and in England, they took 82 out of 90 wickets available in five Tests.

In Australia now, they have made a great start with 20 wickets on a slower deck in Adelaide to give India a 1-0 lead in the four-match series.

“I can say that not only now for what they did in Adelaide but what they’ve done over a period of time in South Africa, in England and now in Australia. This is probably one of the best group of fast bowlers India has ever had,” Arun said ahead of the second Test against Australia.

“Fast bowlers are a precious commodity and they need to be taken care of, like what you do with a racehorse and that’s exactly what’s happening, he said, reflecting on reports that Virat Kohli and his wife vacated business class seats for the pacers on their way to Perth.

Arun said the pacers — Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma — have improved because they have found consistency.

“Consistency was a bit issue (on previous tours) and that’s something we’ve addressed with the bowlers. It’s something we’ve really worked hard on. We insist on one-person form factor even during practice, and the bowlers have responded exceptionally well. That’s showing dividends right now.

“It’s a very simple work. Each time they come to the net and they bowl, they need to be aware of their plans and what they need to execute. Each time it’s a little different of what they need to execute. We just test as to how far they’ve executed each time. That feedback allows them to be more consistent, said Arun.

The second Test begins at the Optus Stadium on Friday and will be the first Test to be staged here with reports that pitch will plenty of pace and bounce.

The stadium was out of bounds on Wednesday, and both teams practiced at the WACA ground instead.

Arun said that bowling at the new Perth Stadium pitch would be a temptation for their current attack, which is capable of adapting to any conditions across the world.

“Obviously the bowlers would love to bowl on those type of wickets. Whatever is in the offing, we are happy with. We haven’t really taken a look at the wicket.

“Irrespective of what the conditions (are), we said we’d come here and look at it as our home conditions whatever conditions we get. We are up for it and we are prepared for any conditions that may exist at the ground,” he added.

He also had a word of advice for his bowlers.

“On overseas wickets, especially like in Perth, you can be carried away by the extra pace and bounce, but again you need to understand that on any responsive track what is really going to be successful is your consistency. And that is what we’re going to work on with the bowlers, he added.

Talking about the spin element, Arun said that R Ashwin had aged like fine wine and was putting on a better show than when he came here in 2014 and 2011.

“Spinners mature a lot with age. Maybe they’re like wine. Ashwin has been really good and the last match he helped us to control – he gave us the control, bowling close to 90 overs for 147 runs and six wickets. You can’t ask anything better. He allowed the fast bowlers to take turns and he could control from one end. That’s the job he was interested in. I think he did that exceptionally well.

“It’s important that a spinner discovers the things he can do. For that to happen, a coach can give the necessary feedback because most often what the bowlers think they’re doing and what they’re actually doing can be two different things. If you can bridge that gap, that’s when the bowlers can grow, he added.

When asked about Australian attack regaining potency on the fast and bouncy Perth wicket, the coach said, We quite expect this. Each time you’re on foreign soil the wickets are a lot more conducive to suit the home bowlers and our batsmen are also aware we would be faced with wickets where there would be bounce and pace. They’ve worked really hard at that.

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To hell with the nets, boys need rest: Ravi Shastri

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Ravi Shahtri

Adelaide | “To hell with the nets,” was what Ravi Shastri said Monday after a memorable 31-run win in the opening Test against Australia, the India coach stressing more on resting his players.

Having suffered back-to-back defeats in South Africa and England, India began the Test series against Australia in earnest, winning the opening match Down Under for the first time in over seven decades. “We lost the first Test in England by 31, lost the first Test in South Africa by 60-70, so this is a very good feeling for the boys to come out on top. When you get off to a good start, there’s belief,” Shastri said.

The teams will be heading to Perth for the second Test that starts on December 14 and Shastri, who is confident that the fast bowlers will have a crucial role to play, hinted at ditching net practice ahead of the clash.

“They have to rest up, to hell with the nets. You just come there, mark your attendance and get away to the hotel. We know the Perth track is quick, it’s a drop in surface, there will be something there for the fast bowlers.”

A collective performance by the four-man Indian bowling attack — pacers Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and spinner Ravichandran Ashwin — helped India earn a 15-run first innings lead before they completed a rare win in this part of the world.

“The bowlers were brilliant in the first innings, defending 250, the discipline was magnificent. They’ve worked on it, it’s not come in overnight. As a bowling unit, when you show that discipline, it doesn’t matter which side you play against. You will be successful,” Sahstri said.

The coach also said he was hopeful that players had learnt from their mistakes in the first innings and commended Man of the Match, Cheteshwar Pujara, for his knocks in both the innings. “There was some rash shots played in the first innings, that was foolish cricket, but they learnt from it. Pujara was absolutely magnificent, we’ve asked him to be a little more upright to counter bounce in these conditions.”

On youngster Rishabh Pant, who equalled the world record of most catches in a Test by a wicketkeeper, dropping the catch of Nathan Lyon, Shastri said: “You have to allow him to play his game, but he has to be a little more sensible now. “He did the hard work in getting Lyon to spread his fields, so he has to be smarter. You make a mistake now, but don’t repeat it, then I’ll be in his ears.”

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India make statement of intent with 31-run win, lead series 1-0

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India

Adelaide | India gave wings to their ferocious ambition of winning a maiden series Down Under, beating Australia by 31 runs in the opening Test with an irresistible fusion of self-belief, hunger and talent here Monday.

Chasing 323, the hosts were bowled out for 291 in 119.5 overs shortly before tea on day five with Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami taking three wickets each for a 1-0 lead in the four-match series. Rishabh Pant finished with 11 catches, and equalled the record for most dismissals in a Test by a wicketkeeper, sharing it with England’s Jack Russell and South Africa’s AB de Villiers.

Things went too close for comfort for India as Nathan Lyon (38 not out) and Josh Hazlewood (13) put on 42 runs for the last wicket and frustrated the Indian bowling. The sparse crowd at Adelaide Oval cheered every single as the duo edged closer and the odd boundary didn’t help matters. Finally, things came to a close as Ashwin had Hazlewood caught at second slip in the 120th over to register India’s sixth Test win on Australian soil.

“It’s important to stay calm. The odds were stacked up against them as soon as we got Pat Cummins out. I wouldn’t say I was cool as ice but you try not to show it,” Kohli said at the end of the match.

Post lunch, India had a big early breakthrough when Australian skipper Tim Paine (41) played an uncharacteristic pull shot off Bumrah and only managed to loop it up for Pant to take an easy catch. The visitors then were bothered by two lower-order stands. First, Mitchell Starc (28) and Pat Cummins (28) put on 41 runs for the eighth wicket and carried Australia past 200 in the 89th over.

While Shami broke through that partnership, things didn’t ease out. Pant could have had 12 dismissals but he dropped Lyon in the 105th over off Bumrah. Four overs later, Kohli didn’t make any mistake at first slip as he helped dismiss Cummins, albeit he was frustrated with his 31-run stand with Lyon.

In the morning session, India removed Travis Head (14) and Shaun Marsh (60) as Australia reached 186 for six at lunch. Starting from overnight 104 for four, the Head-Marsh partnership lasted only 7.4 overs before India forced a breakthrough with the old Kookaburra ball. Head was the first to go, with Ishant Sharma (1-48) bowling a sharp bouncer that followed the batsman and left him no room. The ball looped up to gully where Ajinkya Rahane made no mistake. The duo had added 31 runs with the onus now on Marsh and Paine as the last recognized batting pair.

Marsh shouldered the responsibility and scored his first half-century in the fourth innings of a Test off 146 balls. It was his 10th Test half-century overall. He had looked comfortable at the crease all morning, but Bumrah removed him after the drinks break. The big moment came as the ball moved away just a tad and Marsh gave the slightest of edges to be caught behind in the 73rd over.

It was Pant’s ninth dismissal in the Test, equalling MS Dhoni (9 versus Australia, Melboure in 2014) as the second-best haul by an Indian wicket keeper in overseas Tests. He later equalled and went past Wriddhiman Saha’s Indian record for highest dismissals in a Test (10) against South Africa at Cape Town earlier in the year.

Cummins then helped Paine play out 10.5 overs, although he had a couple of hairy moments in the 74th over off Ashwin. India wasted a DRS review when they thought he had edged it.  Four balls later, a loud appeal for caught at short leg was turned down with Cummins reviewing it successfully this time. India scored 250 in their first innings with Cheteshwar Pujara anchoring with his 16th Test century.

Australia replied with 235 and conceded a 15-run lead. The visitors then finished at 307 in their second innings, including a collapse of five for 25, and set a competitive target on day four.

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