Pujara leads India fightback to frustrate England

Robinson and Overton strike but tourists battle on day three

India’s  Cheteshwar Pujara batting during day three of the  Third Test match at  Headingley, Leeds.  Photograph:  Nigel French/PA Wire

India’s Cheteshwar Pujara batting during day three of the Third Test match at Headingley, Leeds. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire

 

Cheteshwar Pujara has felt rather unappreciated of late, but as he left the field at 6.14pm on the third day at Headingley, bad light forcing the early finish, Virat Kohli was behind him offering heartfelt applause for the rearguard he had just marshalled.

A first-innings blowout of 78 all-out has left India tortured by the prospect of England levelling the series with two Tests to play, thoughts which only increased when Joe Root finessed his latest masterful century and the hosts amassed 432 all-out in reply.

But Pujara delivered on Kohli’s orders not to take a backward step before this third Test, his unbeaten 91, allied by the captain himself moving to 45 not out and a classy 59 from Rohit Sharma, means the tourists head into the weekend on 215 for two, and, though still 139 runs in arrears, ensuring England must now graft hard for parity.

It was always going to be tougher for Root’s attack second time around and, more broadly, the prospect of Pujara returning to form after a barren run was possible provided that Kohli kept the faith.

The 33-year-old now sits nine runs away from his 19th Test century and after 180 balls of steadfast defence would be good value for it.

Headingley, a ground Pujara knows well from his time at Yorkshire, seems to enjoy flipping expectations on their head too. A blanket of bruised cloud sat overhead all day, the White Rose floodlights were at full beam and with India starting out their second innings 354 runs behind, after England were finally bowled out for 432 just 15 minutes into proceedings, plenty seemed ripe for a cascade of wickets.

Stout resistance

Yet despite Ollie Robinson in particular getting the new ball to zip around, and seeing an lbw decision overturned by KL Rahul on height early on, England were met with stout resistance. That was until what became the final ball before lunch when Craig Overton, fresh from swishing 32 runs with the bat, found the edge of Rahul’s bat and Jonny Bairstow plucked a stunning one-handed catch at second slip.

But from 34 for one, Sharma and the newly-arrived Pujara then set about a wicketless afternoon session of 78 runs in which the 16,991-strong crowd upped the volume to will a breakthrough and Robinson was left wondering how he had not delivered it.

Credit should go to the Indian pair here, even if Jimmy Anderson seemed bothered by a niggle all day and Sam Curran rather released the pressure when it was his turn and India cashed in on some floaty inswing.

News that Chris Woakes may finally be fit for the fourth Test at the Oval will create a debate about the No 8 position unless the left-armer’s figures of nine overs, none for 40 improve.

Sharma’s bat was thick in defence and punishing in attack – one uppercut six over the slips before lunch was the Hit Man at his most audacious – while Pujara, so out of sorts up to now despite that craggy if crucial 45 at Lord’s, got the feet moving as England hunted his pads early and ended up chasing leather as a result.

It didn’t take long for him to look reborn. That said, England might have broken their 82-run stand on 57 had Root not run out of time pondering a review against Sharma.

Robinson’s angle and ability to move the ball both ways was presenting issues for the right-handers but the bounce he was extracting did the same for umpire Richard Kettleborough.

As it was, when he struck Sharma’s front pad, the resulting Hawkeye projection showed three reds but a murmur of either bat or pad on Snicko – more likely the latter – meant there were no cast-iron guarantees over the decision being overturned had Root’s hands beaten the clock.

Stronger shout

There was a case to say it looked a stronger shout than the wicket that finally rewarded Robinson’s excellence after tea, with Sharma again struck in front and this time told to depart. He reviewed and Hawkeye suggested only the lightest tickle of leg stump, leaving Kettleborough to look mildly miffed with himself upon confirming what had turned out to be a borderline decision.

The arrival of Kohli would normally bring Anderson into the attack, but time spent off the field for the 39-year-old meant this reunion was delayed. When it did come to pass, 30 minutes into the afternoon, Anderson’s two overs leaked 20 runs in the latest reminder that a) he remains human and b) the raft of injuries that have beset England’s summer have placed an additional burden on his shoulders as the attack leader.

Instead Kohli grew in confidence, and like his partner pressed forward in defence purposely while quick to the loose ball. And after looking becalmed during a late spell in the gloaming that forced Root to make up one half of a spin pairing with Moeen Ali, dispensing with his helmet and seeing out proceedings in a cap, India’s captain will resume in the morning hoping to make it not one but two centuries.

Do that and India may even start believing their own Headingley miracle is achievable.

– Guardian

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