Virat Kohli became only the third Indian to score a hundred on his captaincy debut as the visitors responded resolutely to Australia’s mammoth first innings total by reaching 369 for five on the third day to leave the first cricket Test evenly poised on Thursday.
Kohli, standing in for injured regular captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, became the first Indian after Vijay Hazare and Sunil Gavaskar to score a hundred on his debut as skipper of the team.
The 26-year-old’s seventh ton in the five-day format ended at 115 after he was dismissed by Mitchell Johnson off a short-pitched delivery just before stumps. The Indian’s attempted pull landed in the hands of Ryan Harris at deep fine leg in the 95th over of the day.
At draw of stumps, Wriddhimaan Saha (1) was holding forth in the company of Rohit Sharma, who batted fluently to score 33 in 66 balls. The resolute effort by the Indians, undone to an extent by Kohli’s late dismissal, came after the Australians declared their first innings at an overnight score of 517/7.
On a bright and sunny day which started early to make up for the four hours of play lost yesterday due to rain, the Indians dominated the proceedings for most part before Kohli’s wicket swung the equations slightly in Australia’s favour.
Earlier in the morning, opener Shikhar Dhawan (25) departed in the eighth over but the rest of the top-order fired in unison to put India in a comfortable position on a placid track.
It started with Murali Vijay (53) notching up his seventh Test half century in the pre-lunch session, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara (73) sailing to his sixth in the pre-tea session, and ended with Kohli’s inspiring knock.
In between, Ajinkya Rahane (62) also managed to clinch his fifth Test fifty as Australian bowlers toiled just the way their Indian counterparts had to on the first two days of the match.
Pacer Mitchell Johnson bent his back to send down a couple of probing spells but the wickets were hard to come by. Johnson, the most menacing of all the Aussie pacers today, ended the day with figures of 2/90 in his 18 overs — Kohli’s wicket being his most crucial strike.
Spinner Nathan Lyon also managed to pick up two wickets for his toil of 30 overs in which he conceded 103 runs.
Notwithstanding Kohli’s brilliant knock, which came off 184 balls and was laced with 12 fours, India still trail Australia by 148 runs in the first innings. After being provided a steady start by the openers, Kohli shook off the first-ball bouncer by Johnson that hit his helmet but ended up rattling the Australians, still grieving the death of Phillip Hughes whose life was cut short by a short-pitched delivery that hit the back of his head.
Kohli put on 81 runs for the third wicket with Cheteshwar Pujara (73 runs, 135 balls, 9 fours). He added 101 runs for the fourth wicket with Ajinkya Rahane (62 runs, 76 balls, 10 fours) and another 74 runs for the fifth wicket with Rohit.
For Australia, Ryan Harris (1-49) was the other wicket-taker. Peter Siddle (0-62) was hit by a stomach bug and left the field, while Mitchell Marsh (0-29), Shane Watson (0-13) and Steve Smith (0-19) also went wicketless.
After tea, Kohli and Rahane looked to avoid any further damage to the innings, particularly as the new ball was due and the follow-on mark was still away. The latter was especially scratchy after the break, struggling at times against both pace and spin. But he played some beautiful shots to make up for it and scored at a brisk pace to reach his fifth Test fifty off just 61 balls.