Pujara holds off Panesar and England
Cricket:Monty Panesar marked his Test return with four wickets but could find no way past Cheteshwar Pujara as the tireless India number three once again confounded England in Mumbai.
Without Pujara (114 not out), augmenting the unbeaten double-century he made in India’s nine-wicket first Test victory, England would surely have bowled their hosts out cheaply on day one of the second at the Wankhede Stadium.
He survived while the rest of the top six faltered against Panesar (four for 94) on a spinners’ pitch, and then shared consecutive 50 stands with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin (60no) to turn a vulnerable 119 for five into 266 for six by stumps.
The exact merit of that total will not be clear until England’s batsmen have tried their hand on a surface sure to provide plenty of assistance for India’s three specialist spinners.
But it was hard to escape the impression that Pujara had put India above par in a match likely to hurry to a conclusion inside the scheduled five days.
As in his tour de force 206 not out in Ahmedabad last week, he appeared in control throughout on the way to a near five-and-a-half hour century completed with a hook for his ninth four in James Anderson’s first over with the second new ball.
Panesar, back for his first Test in eight months after a clamour for his inclusion here, bagged the prize wickets of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.
In his 100th Test, opener Sehwag managed 30, and the great Tendulkar, perhaps playing on his home ground at the highest level for the last time, just eight.
Anderson gave the tourists a near perfect start, in the first over of the match after India had won the toss.
Gautam Gambhir clipped him through midwicket for four first ball, but England’s premier pace bowler swung the next past bat on to pad to win an lbw.
Alastair Cook took Anderson off after just three overs, however, and gave Panesar an early bowl.
England’s slow left-armer began with a nervy full-toss, which Sehwag duly clubbed wide of mid-on for four in an over costing nine runs. But his next was a maiden to Sehwag, and soon he got his man.
It was not prodigious turn that did the trick, Panesar tending to operate at a full length and defeating Sehwag in flight to bowl him off-stump off his pads as the batsman tried to push to leg.
Tendulkar also lost his off-stump to Panesar, but this time it was a perfectly-pitched delivery on middle and leg that tempted the master batsman to aim towards mid-on and turned enough to beat the slightly-closed face of the bat.
Pujara was just getting started, and Virat Kohli tried to follow his studied example. But after taking more than an hour either side of lunch to reach 19, the number five was not quite to the pitch driving Panesar, and as the ball gripped again, he pushed a catch low to cover.
Cook immediately reintroduced Graeme Swann to bowl at left-hander Yuvraj Singh, and the ploy worked with an off-break which beat the new batsman on the backward defence and disturbed off-stump again.
Soon after Yuvraj’s second-ball duck, Pujara escaped a half-chance on 60 when Anderson could not cling on one-handed diving low to his left at second slip off Panesar. But he and Dhoni added exactly 50 until the captain was neatly caught low down at gully by Swann when Panesar got one to leap and turn.
Pujara adjusted his own tempo once new partner Ashwin revealed a counter-attacking instinct in his 67-ball 50 as Stuart Broad, off colour and missing from practice yesterday, leaked runs just when England could least afford him to.
They were arguably unfortunate not to dismiss Pujara in fluke circumstances on 94, when a pull at Swann appeared to loop up off Cook’s boot at short-leg into the hands of midwicket. The umpires interpreted ball first hitting ground from video replay evidence.
It would have been an ironic way for England to get Pujara out at last for the first time in the series.
Instead, at the close, they were still searching for a way to dismiss him, after 719 balls, more than 15 hours and counting so far.