JOHANNESBURG - Cheteshwar Pujara punished South Africa's wilting bowling attack with a sparkling 135 not out as he and Virat Kohli helped India take complete control of the first test at the Wanderers on Friday.
A third-wicket stand of 191 between Pujara and Kohli (77 not out) lifted India to 284 for two in their second innings at the close of play, a commanding lead of 320 on a pitch that still has plenty to offer the bowlers.
South Africa's cause has not been helped by a grade one ankle ligament strain to Morne Morkel that has robbed them of one of their main strike weapons and makes him a serious doubt for the second test in Durban starting on Boxing Day.
The home team's main worries, however, are more immediate. Pujara showed admirable patience and plenty of skill in compiling his sixth test century but did offer a relatively simple caught and bowled chance to the hapless Imran Tahir when he had just passed 50.
The leg-spinner put it down to compound a miserable match in which he has conceded 102 runs in 19 overs without taking a wicket.
As the South African attack began to tire, Pujara and Kohli stepped up the scoring rate and smashed 175 in 38 overs in the final session, making a mockery of the difficult pitch conditions.
“When Morne Morkel got injured we didn't want to lose out on that, we wanted to play tighter to make them tired,” India opener Murali Vijay (39) told reporters.
“There is a crack in the middle of the pitch so I think there will be deviation. They [Pujara and Kohli] played brilliantly, Kohli just dominated the innings.
“I am really happy for Pujara, he worked really hard. We are in a very good position but we still have to get 10 wickets.”
South Africa had said before the start of play that chasing anything over 250 would be a challenge.
Paceman Vernon Philander become the fastest South African to take 100 test wickets when he enticed Shikhar Dhawan (15) to steer the ball to second slip Jacques Kallis who took his 199th test catch.
Philander claimed his 100th victim in his 19th test, the joint sixth quickest to the milestone, and he reached the mark one match faster than South Africa's previous record holder Dale Steyn.
“The sun is out and the wicket straightened out a little bit. It is going to be hard work especially having a bowler less,” Philander said.
“It's sad to see Morne go down but we have to come up with the goods and produce.
“They [India's batsmen] left very well again but like I said the wicket has got a lot better, hopefully it will stay that way for the rest of the test. Hopefully we can make some inroads tomorrow with the new ball.”
The tourists made short work of the South African tail in the morning session, despite a battling 59 from Philander, dismissing the hosts for 244 as they picked up the final four wickets for the addition of 31 runs.
Zaheer Khan finished with four for 88 and Ishant Sharma claimed four for 79.