Indore: Test skipper Virat Kohli ended his brief drought of big runs with a brilliant unbeaten century to guide India to 267/3 at stumps on the opening day of the third and final Test against New Zealand at the Holkar stadium here on Saturday.
Kohli, who last scored a century against the West Indies in Antigua, held his composure to thwart the Kiwi attack and bring up his 13th ton, which incidentally is the first century of the ongoing series from either side.
The 27-year-old got ample support from his deputy Ajinkya Rahane (79 not out), who became the 36th Indian batsman to cross the milestone of 2000 Test runs during the innings.
Finding themselves in a tight spot in the second session, the right-handed duo held their nerves as they went on to frustrate the Kiwi bowlers with an unbeaten 167-run stand for the fourth wicket when stumps were drawn for the day.
Sensing more trouble, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson opted for the second new ball but his efforts at breaking the partnership went in vain as India added 119 runs in the final session.
Earlier, Cheteshwar Pujara’s (41) wicket was the only casualty India endured during the post-lunch session as the hosts went to tea at 148/3.
Resuming at 75/2 after lunch, Pujara and Kohli continued to maintain their temperament against the Kiwi spinners but after adding 25 runs to the score left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner produced a ripper to dismiss Pujara for 41.
The fall of Pujara brought in Rahane, who along with Kohli forged a 48-run partnership to stabilise the Indian innings.
For the visitors, Santner was the lone wicket-taker in the second session.
In the morning session, the Kiwis gave a good fight sending back both the Indian openers as the hosts reached 75/2 at lunch.
All eyes were on veteran opener Gautam Gambhir (29), who made a comeback to the national team after being sidelined for two years.
Coming in as a replacement for the aggressive Shikhar Dhawan, who injured his left thumb during the Kolkata Test, Gambhir started with a four to set the tone for the first ever Test match played at the venue.
When Matt Henry tested him with two short deliveries, the Delhi southpaw unleashed two consecutive pull shots that carried the ball safely over the ropes. Two more fours took his total to 24 off 20 making the 34-year-old’s intent loud and clear.
His opening partner Murali Vijay (10) produced two classy fours off pacer Trent Boult but soon fell prey to off-spinner Jeetan Patel, who induced the right-hander to flick before being caught by Tom Latham at short-leg.
Encouraged by the result, Williamson immediately introduced spin from both ends employing Santner but one down Pujara and Gambhir did not give the left-armer any chance.
Boult then came back to break through the defence of Gambhir when he angled one across that thudded low on the back pad of the left-hander which was enough for the umpire to raise the finger.
For the visitors, none of the bowlers looked threatening as Boult, Patel and Santner managed to take one wicket apiece.
With both Kohli and Rahane well set, and Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin to follow, the hosts certainly look set for a massive first innings score.
India 1st innings: 267 for three in 90 overs (Virat Kohli 103 batting, Ajinkya Rahane 79 batting; Mitchell Santner 1/53). PTI
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