India batsman Pujara stonewalls Australia in series decider
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Cheteshwar Pujara absorbed no fewer than 11 blows to the helmet, hands and body in a stonewalling innings of 43 that ushered India to the brink of retaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy with one session remaining against Australia.
Pujara needed medical treatment and a new helmet in the middle session of day five but was still there, after facing 168 deliveries, at tea with India on 183-3 chasing 328 for victory at the Gabba.
With the four-test series tied 1-1, India needs only a draw to retain the trophy. Australia needed seven wickets in the last session Tuesday to win the fourth test and the series.
India resumed on day five at 4 without loss and added 14 before Australian paceman Pat Cummins elicited an edge from Rohit Sharma (7) and had the dangerous opener caught behind in the ninth over.
Enter Pujara, a veteran of 80 test matches and less than a week away from his 33rd birthday. He joined 21-year-old Shubman Gill in a 114-run stand that not only helped thwart the Australian attack but also kept India in the contest for an unlikely win.
While Gill compiled 91 from 146 balls, his highest score in a three-test career, Pujara anchored down at the other end, taking hits on the body against the short ball rather than risk playing cross-bat shots in the situation.
The partnership lasted most of the first session and half of the second and was starting to accelerate when off-spinner Nathan Lyon re-entered the attack and had Gill edging to slip, where Steve Smith took a sharp reflex catch. Gill had just plundered left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc in one over that netted India 20 runs and got him within a few scoring shots of his maiden century.
India's stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane replaced Gill and maintained a good strike rate while Pujura had plenty of dramas on 26, surviving a decision review for lbw from Lyon and a short ball from Josh Hazlewood that crashed into the grill of his helmet and dislodged the neck guard on the back, enforcing another medical break.
The pair added 35 for the third wicket before Rahane tried a ramp shot against Cummins and was caught behind for 24 from 22 balls.
With the total at at 167-3 in the 57th over, the sight of Rishabh Pant walking to the crease to replace Rahane suggested India was still chasing a win. Pant was unbeaten on 10 at the break.
Pant's 97 on the last day of the third test in Sydney last week was instrumental in helping India force a draw and keep the series level.
India prevented Australia getting into a position to score quickly and declare on day four, when Mohammed Siraj took his maiden five-wicket haul to restrict the hosts to 294 in the second innings. That was a lead of 327.
Rain washed out much of the last session Monday, meaning Sharma and Gill only had to survive 11 balls before stumps on the penultimate day.
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