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Pujara century rescues India on Opening Day of Mumbai Test

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cheteshwar_pujara1India's new no.3, Cheteshwar Pujara, appears to have taken off from where his predecessor Rahul Dravid left off, proving himself to be not just the new crisis man for Indian cricket, but a run machine as well. Pujara, who scored in excess of 240 runs unbeaten in the first test at Ahmedabad, followed up with a match saving 114 on the opening day of the second test in Mumbai. The Rajkot lad walked in to bat on just the third ball of the morning, and survived the day keeping the England spinners at bay, rescuing India from a perilous 169-6. Pujara shared in three half-century partnerships with Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin, with the last of these worth 97 with Ashwin getting 60 of those runs. Pujara and Ashwin saw India through to the close of play at 266-6 after Monty Panesar had dominated the first two sessions, taking 4 of the 6 wickets that fell.

The second test of the four match series between former world no.1 sides India and England in Mumbai started off on a happy note for the hosts as the Indian captain MS Dhoni won his second toss of the series and chose to bat on a wicket that looked like one waiting to turn straight away. Dhoni also sprung a surprise for one and all as he picked a third specialist spinner in Harbhajan Singh in place of the unfit Umesh Yadav for this game, hoping to exploit the conditions. England on the other hand had to make two changes from the previous game in Ahmedabad. Yorkshire batsman Jonny Bairstow came in for Ian Bell, who had leave for England for personal reasons and the visitors also predictably drafted a second spinner in Monty Panesar in place of the ineffective Tim Bresnan.

It was England though who were celebrating early with Gautam Gambhir falling leg before to Jimmy Anderson on the very second ball of the match. Having struck a juicy half-volley on leg stump to the fence first ball, Gambhir attempting to play a length ball across the line this time and ended up missing it to end his participation in the first innings far too early.

The first test double centurion Cheteshwar Pujara walked in at no.3 following Gambhir's dismissal and he was intent on occupying the crease. Sehwag too surprisingly chose to bide his time, with India not being able to afford losing another wicket. He was circumspect by his standards but put away the odd loose delivery from Monty Panesar as the left arm spinner took some time to settle in. With the boundaries hard to come by, the pair consolidated and kept the scoreboard ticking over with ones and twos. England's most effective bowler of the morning Jimmy Anderson was brought back for another burst and he nearly struck again for his captain. Sehwag survived a couple of anxious moments before drinks as he edged Anderson just past his stumps and through the slip cordon. India though remained just 1 wicket down at drinks with the score on 50 after 14 overs.

Sehwag's luck ran out straight after the drinks break though as the swashbuckling Delhi batsman fell to a lapse in concentration. He played all across a full length delivery on leg stump from Panesar only to see his stumps shattered, after making 30. That wicket brought to the crease an under pressure Sachin Tendulkar at no.4 with India on 52/2. The little master looked assured with his foot work in the first few minutes at the crease and played a couple of good looking shots to get his innings started. It wasn't to be though for the champion batsman as he was done in by a peach of a delivery from Monty Panesar bringing a premature end to his innings once again. He misjudged the length of a flatter delivery from Panesar that spun sharply past the closed face of his bat and took the off-stump. With Tendulkar dismissed for 8, India were in tatters at 60/3.

India's next generation of batsmen in Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli then got together looking to resurrect the Indian innings. Both young players were circumspect at the stroke of lunch and batted sedately through to the break to take India for lunch at 87/3 from 28 overs.

Pujara and Kohli were stiffled in the first half hour after lunch as England employed spin from both ends. The runs dried up as England kept the field up on a wicket that was starting to turn sharply. The batsmen though soon settled in and got the score moving with a couple of flowing shots through the off side after having fought hard to ensure they stayed in. The 50-run stand was brought up for the 4th wicket and Pujara too got to another well deserved half century, looking good for the long haul.

Just as things were looking brighter for the home side, Kohli (19) was dismissed against the run of play, once again by the left arm spin of Panesar. The stylish right-hander looked to drive a full length delivery that gripped off the surface, which resulted in him lobbing a catch to Nick Compton at short extra-cover. There was more joy to be had for the English very soon as Graeme Swann too got amongst the wickets in the very next over. The wily off-spinner did no harm to his stupendous record against left hand batsmen as he clean bowled the new batsman Yuvraj Singh with a delivery that straightened and clipped the off stump with Yuvi playing down the wrong line.

MS Dhoni walked in to bat at a disastrous 119/5 on a wicket that seemed to be turning sharply after lunch. The Indian captain put away a couple of balls to the fence to signal his intentions just before drinks. India though had slumped to an unexpected 134/5, an hour after lunch, with plenty to do for Pujara (60*) and Dhoni (11*).

Both batsmen had their fair share of luck with Pujara dropped by Anderson at second slip off Panesar and Dhoni escaping a half-chance for a stumping having given Swann the charge. The batsmen were continuously under pressure against the turning ball, but displayed some excellent powers of perseverance to survive till Tea, taking India through to the break at 167-5.

The 50 of the partnership was brought up shortly after the break, but it was India who fell behind as Monty Panesar struck in his first over of the final session, getting Dhoni to reach forward to a delivery he should have played from the crease. The ball spun and bounced, taking the glove through to Graeme Swann standing at second slip.

Ravichandran Ashwin walked out to replace his skipper, and looked to be positive, timing the ball superbly off Stuart Broad in particular. The duo took India past 200 as Pujara moved into the nervous nineties, while Ashwin looked rock solid from the other end. Pujara survived a ferocious appeal on the stroke of drinks with England convinced they had their man caught at short midwicket, after his attempted pull off Swann had ricocheted off the boot of Cook at short leg, but replays showed that it was a bump ball.

It was slow going for India in the final session with the runs drying up with neither batsman looking to force the issue. England took the new ball as soon as it became available, and Pujara cashed in on an attempted bouncer from Jimmy Anderson to bring up his century.

Ashwin showed that he liked the ball coming on to the bat with a little pace as he smacked Anderson for 3 boundaries in the 83rd over to motor along to 48. Anderson was replaced by Broad for the next over from that end, but didn't affect Ashwin's batsmanship as he brought up his half-century, albeit with his first false shot of the day, a top edged pull that went over the keeper's head.

India did well to score some quick runs off the newer ball before shutting shop for the last 3 overs to survive the day. They finished at 266-6 with Pujara unbeaten on 114 while Ashwin had contributed an invaluable 60 on a ground where he scored his maiden test century against the West Indies.

There is little doubt that the pitch did not have quite as much bite in the final session as it did in the first two, and chances are England will bounce back early tomorrow and look to knock over the Indian lower order before lunch. Should India manage to make its way past 300, the game could well be beyond England already.

Teams:

India: G Gambhir, V Sehwag, C Pujara, S Tendulkar, V Kohli, Y Singh, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, H Singh, Z Khan, P Ojha

England: A Cook, N Compton, J Trott, K Pietersen, J Bairstow, S Patel, M Prior, J Anderson, S Broad, M Panesar, G Swann

Miniscorecard

India 1st innings 266/6 (90 overs, 2.95 rpo)
C Pujara 114* (279) M Panesar 4/91
R Ashwin 60* (84) J Anderson 1/45

File Photograph Courtesy: BCCI