Johannesburg, Dec 20: Cheteshwar Pujara slammed a sparkling unbeaten 135 as India gained firm control of the first cricket Test against South Africa with the top-order showing remarkable application to give the visitors a substantial overall lead of 320 here today.
The Indians first bundled out the hosts for 244 for a slender first innings lead of 36 runs and then batted with purpose and maturity to reach 284 for two at close on an eventful third day's play with Pujara again showing his apetite for a big score with an unbeaten knock of 135.
The 25-year-old Pujara notched up his sixth Test century while the in-form Virat Kohli is looking good for another big score as he is batting on 77.
The duo put on 191 runs for the unbroken third-wicket stand in only 44.1 overs as South Africa were dealt with a telling blow of Morne Morkel being ruled out of the match due to a ligament tear in his ankle while fielding.
Pujara, who was dropped on 51 by leggie Imran Tahir off his own bowling, made full use of the reprieve as he hit 18 boundaries in 221 balls.
Unlike first innings, Kohli played the second fiddle hitting eight fours off 132 balls as South African captain Graeme Smith couldn't devise a strategy to get the duo out.
With two full days left in the game, the visitors will now try to extend the lead further by piling up some quick runs and then hope to dismiss the Proteas who will have to bat last on a deteriorating Wanderers track.
At tea, India 131/2
It was a slow approach by India in the second innings but the right one as they inched closer to taking the advantage by tea.
Murali Vijay and Pujara took the cautious route to ensure that India were building on the 36-run lead. By the tea interval, the visitors were 109/2 in 40 overs, an overall advantage of 145.
Between lunch and tea, India lost the wicket of Vijay (39) while Pujara continued to battle it out in the middle in the company of Virat Kohli (6).
South Africa were hampered by Morne Morkel's ankle injury. In the first session, Morkel twisted his ankle while fielding and since then has been off the field.
With a bowler short, Jacques Kallis stepped up to be the frontline bowler and got the wicket of Vijay.
In 26 overs this session, India managed to score 78/1.
SA 244 all out
Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma took four wickets apiece to give India a 36-run lead against South Africa early on the third day. In the second innings, India had moved to 31/1 in 14 overs by lunch to take the overall lead to 67.
Opener Shikhar Dhawan was the man out for India. The left-hander was dismissed by Vernon Philander for 15 runs. Vijay (12) and Pujara (4) at the crease at lunch.
Philander took his 100th Test wicket when he had Dhawan caught by Jacques Kallis. The right-arm fast bowler is playing his 19th Test and is the fastest South African to reach 100 scalps, bettering Dale Steyn (20 Tests).
For the hosts, there was some bad news as Morkel twisted his ankle while fielding and was limped off the field in the final over before lunch.
Earlier, resuming at 213/6, South Africa were bowled out for 244. Zaheer took three and Ishant one wicket today.
Overnight batsman Philander completed his half century. He was the first to go in the morning, caught by R Ashwin at slips off Zaheer. Philander contributed invaluable 59 runs.
Ishant next got into the wicket-taking act by dismissing Dale Steyn, also caught in slips by Rohit Sharma. Zaheer added the scalp of Faf du Plessis and ended the innings by getting Morne Morkel bowled.
The match has now been set up nicely and it all depends on how Indian batsmen perform in the second innings.