MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Cheteshwar Pujara scored his second century of the series before Australia barely survived a tense six-over period to reach eight without loss at stumps Thursday to trail India by 435 runs after the second day of the third cricket test.
India’s captain Virat Kohli declared his side’s first innings closed at 443-7, on a Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch that offered variable bounce.
Australia’s openers Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris then faced a nervous time at the batting crease to see Australia safely to stumps without loss.
The host’s batsmen did not escape unscathed though, with Harris ducking into a bouncer from Jasprit Bumrah in the fourth over, after the ball kept lower than expected. When play resumed, a shaken Harris almost edged the next delivery from Bumrah onto his stumps.
While India failed to provide much entertainment, crawling along at a scoring rate of 2.61 runs per over, the slow-paced pitch was largely to blame as it made it difficult to play attacking shots.
Cheteshwar Pujara (106) scored his second hundred of the series, after his 123 in the first test at Adelaide, and combined with Kohli (82) for a patient 170-run partnership for the third wicket after India had resumed on 215-2.
“It’s a tough pitch to score runs on,” Pujara said. “To score 200 in a day is a tough task so I think we have enough runs on the board. The pitch has already started deteriorating and there is variable bounce on it.
“From tomorrow onwards it will get difficult to bat.”
World No.1-ranked batsman Kohli had struggled to 75 before having treatment for what appeared to be a back injury. Kohli was out seven runs later, as he chipped a catch to third man off the bowling of Mitchell Starc (2-87).
Kohli, who fell 18 runs short of his sixth test century of 2018, struck nine fours from 204 deliveries. Pujara said he believed Kohli’s injury was not a major concern for the skipper.
The energetic Pat Cummins (3-72) bowled Pujara with a ball that kept alarmingly low, ending a disciplined knock that included 10 fours off 319 balls. The manner of his dismissal at 299-4 left the in-form Pujara looking stunned, after he had been struck on the glove earlier in the over by a rising delivery which pitched at a similar length.
“I got hit on my finger three to four times and those were not short balls,” Pujara said. “As a batsman, there’s always a doubt when you are playing on such pitches.
“The ball which I got out to, I felt I couldn’t have done anything about that. If it stays low, as a batsman you have very limited options.”
Rohit Sharma (63 not out) and Rishabh Pant (39) shared a 76-run stand for the sixth wicket after both were dropped on 15 off the bowling of spinner Nathan Lyon (1-110).
Finch praised the way Australia’s bowlers kept grinding away to keep India’s score under 500 in a six-hour innings of 169.4 overs.
“This wicket is deteriorating a lot more than probably we thought it would,” Finch said. “But we’re very confident that we can bat really big and bat well in this first innings and put India under pressure again.”
The pitch for last year’s Melbourne test between Australia and England was officially rated as poor by the match referee after it ended in a dull draw. More poor ratings would mean the MCG is at risk of losing the right to host the Boxing Day test.
The four-test series is level at one-all.