Virat Kohli's seventh Test century led India into a strong first innings position, on the third day of the first Test against Australia at the Adelaide Oval.
In his first match as captain in the five-day format, Kohli struck 12 fours in a fluent innings of 115, to carry India to 369-5, after Australia declared overnight on 517-7. Ably supported with half-centuries from Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane, the Australian bowlers were made to toil on an extended 97-over day, as the pitch remained good for the batsmen.
Much like David Warner did at the start of Australia's innings, Shikhar Dhawan acted in the role of the aggressor, hitting a brisk 25 before dragging a Ryan Harris delivery onto his stumps.
With Dhawan gone, Vijay looked to increase his scoring rate after a cautious start, hitting a confident 50 courtesy of three fours and a six, while Pujara played more sedately down the other end. It was when Mitchell Johnson found an edge from Vijay just before lunch that Kohli was summoned to the crease.
Following the death of Phillip Hughes, nobody was quite sure what would happen the next time a player got hit by a bouncer. Kohli's first ball ensured we were to wait no longer. As he dodged attempting to avoid a Johnson missile, a flush strike on the helmet sent a hush of concern around the stadium.
The umpires, and Johnson, immediately raced to check if Kohli was okay, while captain Michael Clarke was straight to Johnson's side to comfort him. Australian cricket at least, is going to take a long time to recover, if indeed it ever does.
Thankfully, the hit was no more than what we are accustomed to, and a sweet drive down the ground for three, showed Kohli was unaffected, as India strode off for lunch without further drama, two wickets down.
Back in form
The captain was on the front foot again for the first delivery after lunch, caressing Johnson through the covers. It was already a very different Kohli from the one who suffered a summer of torment in England. A wristy flick through midwicket in the next over, showed him just as competent on the legside as well.
Pujara was soon past 50, his punch down the ground met with a punch on the chest by his partner. Kohli's body language was indicative of a new Indian Test team, one instilled with self belief and confidence, something that has been severely lacking overseas in recent times. The partnership of 81 eventually came to an end, when a Nathan Lyon ball, deflected unfortunately off Pujara's bat, rolling onto the stumps.
Rahane joined Kohli at the wicket and played in an expansive manner, complimented by his teammate who steadily accumulated at the other end, as they carried India to 223-3 by tea.
Kohli reached his 50 on the first ball after the resumption, before the pairing heaped pressure on the Australian bowlers, hitting a collection of boundaries, as Rahane notched a half-century of his own 10 overs later. They continued to thwart the attack, bringing up an assured 100 partnership, but a superb delivery from Lyon saw Rahane nick to slip, to keep Australia in the hunt.
Undeterred, Kohli - now accompanied by Rohit Sharma - calmly proceeded on. A crunched shot off the back foot, whistled through the covers for four, and another crushing blow through midwicket soon after, made a mockery of Johnson, the spearhead of the Australian attack. It was only fitting for him to cross the century landmark with another boundary, clipping a Mitchell Marsh ball through the legside, as he let out a roar of emotion.
Frustratingly for India, a rash hook just four overs before stumps meant he didn't return to the pavilion unbeaten. Kohli's first ball saw him hit by a Johnson bouncer, who bookended his battle with another to bring his dismissal - unfortunately for Australia, 115 crucial runs were scored inbetween. Wriddhiman Saha and Rohit negotiated the final exchanges without further loss, to complete a successful day for India, as they reduced their arrears to below 150.
The Australian bowlers endured a tough day, with Johnson proving expensive, yet his two wickets - particularly the Kohli snare - have kept them firmly in the contest. The spin of Lyon earned him the valuable brace of Pujara and Rahane. And a typically economical performance from Harris, reminded of his importance to the bowling unit. Peter Siddle failed to impose himself in a forgettable 13 overs, while Marsh was impressive - leaking less than three runs an over - in the 11 afforded to him.
With two days remaining in the match, Australia will be hoping they can quickly get into the Indian tail tomorrow morning. Whether Saha and Rohit can stick around long enough to narrow the deficit will be key. If they can get up to and perhaps past Australia's total, they will hold the initiative, yet a lower-order skittling and a testing fight for survival could await them on day five.
Many will just be surprised to see India still in this match. A woeful stretch of form away from home has not been more apparent than in their torrid form with the bat. Captaincy has magnified Virat Kohli’s character, and on a day where he banished his own demons, India may just have started to banish theirs.
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