Virat Kohli roared back to form with a superbly crafted century on a tricky pitch to take India to a comfortable 267 for 3 against New Zealand on the first day of the third cricket Test here.
The Indian skipper, who went without a 50 plus score in his last seven innings across five Tests, was back in his elements, stroking an unbeaten 103 — his 13th hundred in 48th match. Kohli’s century was also the first by any batsman from the either side in this three-match series.
He was complemented brilliantly by Ajinkya Rahane, who was scratchy to begin with but settled down well to remain unbeaten on 79.
The duo added 167 runs for the unbroken fourth wicket in 54 overs after New Zealand had initially pegged India back at 100 for 3 in 36 overs.
While it wasn’t a treacherous pitch to bat on, it was indeed a tricky surface which got slower with passage of time and both Kohli and Rahane displayed excellent batsmanship during their unbroken stand.
Kohli’s 100 came off 184 balls. In all he played 191 deliveries on the day hitting 10 boundaries while Rahane’s 172 ball knock had nine boundaries and a big six over square leg off Jeetan Patel’s delivery.
Kohli, on the other hand, reached his milestone with a scampered single, surviving a direct hit at the non-striker’s end. Once the third umpire ruled ‘Not Out’, the celebrations were muted by standards of the Indian captain even as a vocal crowd at the Holkar Stadium gave him a standing ovation.
Earlier, comeback man Gautam Gambhir (29) made a good start hitting a couple of pulled sixes off pacer Matt henry but could not capitalise on the chance that he got after more than two years as Trent Boult found him plumb in-front.
Murali Vijay (10) was dismissed cheaply by Jeetan Patel while Cheteshwar Pujara (41) was set for a big knock before he got a beauty from left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner.
For New Zealand, Santner had the best figures with 1 for 53 in 19 overs while Boult was a shade behind with 1/54 in 16 overs. Patel gave away 65 in 24 overs for his wicket.
Kohli — his previous highest in the series being a crucial 45 in the second innings at Kolkata, alongwith Rahane played the ball on merit and eschewed risky shots to build the partnership brick by brick.
They went into tea at a score of 148 for 3 and then began batting with more aggression while exercising caution as the watch word.
Later in the day the duo also played out 10 overs off the second new ball as it yielded 38 runs in that phase.
With still some batting left, India – who won the toss and elected to bat, would be looking at a total in excess of at least 450 for the first time in the rubber in which they have taken an unassailable 2-0 lead by winning the first two games in Kanpur and Kolkata.
Earlier in the day, India lost a well-set Cheteshwar Pujara in the post-lunch session after openers Vijay and Gambhir were dismissed in the session before lunch.
Pujara, who looked assured, departed in the first hour of play after lunch to be the third batsman dismissed within the first hour’s play after lunch for 41, inclusive of six hits to the fence, in 108 balls.
His exit, with India on 100, brought together Kohli, who played it safe with an occasional aggressive shot. The hosts were pegged back by some intelligent bowling on a helpful track by the Kiwi spin duo of Patel and Santner under overcast conditions.
Both Pujara and Kohli were kept quiet for lengthy spells by the two spinners and the left-arm slow bowler also struck a big blow when he sent back the former just when it was getting dangerous for the Kiwis.
Assured in his footwork till then either playing forward or on backfoot, Pujara played slightly inside the line to a ball that was bowled from wide of the crease by Santner and straightened to uproot off-stump.
Kohli used caution as he and Rahane could add just 36 in 15 overs in the first hour of play post lunch.
Rahane was once struck on the forearm by Henry and the ball ballooned up to be caught in the slips while Kohli edged Patel between wicketkeeper and finely placed first slip closer to the tea break.
The home team had progressed slowly from lunch score of 75 for two, thus adding 73 run s in 30 overs in the post lunch period of play.
Earlier, India lost both openers in the new-look combination during the pre-lunch session after choosing to bat first.
Vijay fell to off-spinner Jeetan Patel in the fifth over, caught brilliantly at short leg off a firm flick. Gambhir, playing with an open stance, started off well and played some audacious shots, including two pulled sixes in successive balls from Henry, before going into a defensive mould and falling leg before to left arm pace bowler Boult in the 20th over.