Rajkot, Nov 11: 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 319/4 on the third day of the first Test here today (November 11).
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 compiled a more aggressive 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.
Visitors strike late in the day
England fought back late in the day by dismissing the well-set Vijay, who hit 9 fours and 4 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 tomorrow.
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.
Today, 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 the Hyderabad Test three years ago. Today's 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.
The Chennai-born batsman 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.
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 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 a gainst 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.
DRS to the rescue
His away hundreds had been scored in Johannesburg in South Africa and in Colombo against Sri Lanka. 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.
Pujara and Vijay came together at the fall of opener Gautam Gambhir (29) off the first ball of the second over this morning when India were 68, having added just five to their overnight score.
Gambhir falls cheaply
Vijay, who survived a LBW shout in the last over before lunch against Adil Rashid, continued to find the leg-spinner a difficult proposition post lunch but battled on with determination.
With first Woakes and then Broad, who bowled a spell of 5-4-1-0, strangling the scoring rate at the other end, the 32-year-old Vijay added just 7 runs in 49 balls at one stage.
He was also distinctly lucky to be grassed by debutant Haseeb Hameed off Broad at short covers when on 66. It was a drive on the up by Vijay but Hameed could not latch on to the ball after diving full length to his left.
Pujara, at the other end, batted much more fluently but was also stifled by the England bowlers and just 33 runs came in 15 overs. In the first session, the duo added 94 runs after coming together at the fall of Gambhir's wicket.
The left-handed 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 a fuller length first ball in 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 excellently timed boundary hits.