Indore (India) (AFP) – Skipper Virat Kohli struck form with a gritty century as India ended the opening day’s play on a commanding 267 for three against New Zealand in the third and final Test in Indore on Saturday.
The hosts, who elected to bat first, rode on an unbeaten 167-run partnership between Kohli (103) and Ajinkya Rahane(79) to gain control of the innings after early losses.
Kohli recorded his 13th Test ton in 48 matches after a string of low scores in his last seven innings since his first Test double hundred against West Indies in July.
The top-order batsman, who tackled the New Zealand bowlers with excellent footwork, hit the ball to all parts of the Holkar Stadium.
Rahane, who seemed to gain confidence from the free-flowing Kohli at the other end, brought up his fifty — the tenth of his Test career — with a six off Jeetan Patel.
“Virat played a very good innings and got the first century (from either side) in the series and Ajinkya too batted well,” number three batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored 41, told reporters.
“Their partnership was crucial and if it carries on tomorrow it will be good for us,” Pujara said.
The 27-year-old Kohli worked hard in the initial part of his innings but grew in stature after getting past fifty and his assured stroke-making soon dominated the New Zealand bowling.
Kohli tapped a rising delivery from Matt Henry to run a quick single that saw a direct hit at the non-strikers end but the star batsman scampered home and celebrated his hundred.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, who returned to lead the side after missing the second Test with a viral infection, juggled his bowling options but Kohli and Rahane held fort.
The hosts did not lose a single wicket in the space of 34 overs in the final session as the batting duo entertained the raucous home crowd.
“We will try to bat as long as possible. The kind of position we are in, we will look to get 400 and if we don’t lose quick wickets tomorrow and continue like we are doing, we will keep batting.
“We hope for a big total and when our spinners bowl we expect some more help from the wicket on day two and three,” said Pujara.
– Gambhir’s breezy knock –
Earlier in post-lunch play number-three Pujara was bowled off a beauty by left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner for 41. He had put on 40 runs with Kohli.
India lost both its openers in the morning session with returning Gautam Gambhir (29), who was playing Test cricket after a two-year gap, letting go of a good start.
Pace spearhead Trent Boult cut short Gambhir’s breezy knock, which was studded with three fours and two sixes, after trapping the left-handed batsman lbw on an incoming delivery.
Boult, Santner and Patel, who struck first after sending back Murali Vijay for 10, shared a wicket apiece in the 90 overs of play.
New Zealand allrounder James Neesham, who was added to the starting lineup in place of Neil Wagner, said the visitors were in with a chance provided they strike early on day two.
“I don’t know if we could have done it a whole lot different with the ball, stuck at it well…Keeping the run rate below three was a good achievement. Couple of quick wickets tomorrow we’re still in game,” said Neesham on Saturday.
The hosts, who took a 2-0 lead after winning the second Test in Kolkata on Monday, have set their sights on a whitewash against the tourists.