2019 might have dawned but there was a sense of sameness to it as another defiant ton by Cheteshwar Pujara- his 3rd in the series, pummeled Australia into the dust, to lead India into a commanding position at 4-303 at the close of the first day at the Sydney Cricket Ground. After having won the toss, Virat Kohli decided to make the first use of the conditions that were optimal for batting.
Pujara came to the crease in the second over after KL Rahul's customary edge to the slip cordon off Josh Hazlewood meant the Karnataka batsmen embarked on the path to bunny hood; becoming Josh Hazlewood's victim for the fourth time in Test cricket. Pujara's stonewalling of the Australian attack with his tenacity and defiance was an able match to Mayank Agarwal's exuberant stroke-play on the other end.
The Karnataka batsman en-route to his second fifty blazed away with scorching cover-drives and backfoot punches to make up for Pujara's solidarity. He was, however, peppered with the short ball on either side of the Lunch break, especially by Mitchell Starc's pace and angle from over the wicket. His technique against the short ball remained iffy as he tried to hop and defend every short ball, unlike Pujara's classical sways and ducks at the other end.
Agarwal, however, managed to survive, playing the ball late and tried to cash-in on the hard work by greeting Nathan Lyon with a gorgeous straight six over long-on before giving his wicket away in a bid to do an encore. Kohli and Pujara then survived the rest of the Post-Lunch session in an attritional manner, as they had done during the 170-run stand at the MCG. But things began to unravel for the Aussies at the backend of the afternoon session when Pujara cashed in on the long hops offered by Marnus Labuschagne, smoking him for three boundaries in an over.
Australia got a much-needed fillip immediately after Tea when Josh Hazlewood got Virat Kohli strangled down the leg-side and Mitchell Starc's rip-snorter accounted for India's vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. But, the day, was really about Cheteshwar Pujara's masterclass in playing spin bowling. He nullified Nathan Lyon's threat to the hilt by meticulously using his feet and driving him on the on-side to force the off-spinner to bowl short at him, which the Indian No.3 smashed with disdain of the backfoot.
The moment arrived when Pujara flicked Mitchell Starc on the leg-side to bring his third ton of the series, and along with Hanuma Vihari, who scored a quick-fire 39, stitched an unbeaten 75-run stand for the fifth wicket to take the visitors to 4-303 by the close of day's play.
India [4-303, Pujara 130*, Agarwal 77, Josh Hazlewood 2-51]