After the departure of Gautam Gambhir, the hosts are 49-1. Cheteshwar Pujara has returned to the big stage. He takes guard against a determined New Zealand attack. The Kiwis look to try and exploit the voids created by the absence of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – this is India’s first series after their retirement.
The Saurashtra batsman looks to fill huge shoes at No. 3 – is he up for it, though? Trent Boult is getting the ball to seam and Chris Martin looks ready for the challenge. Pujara needs to show his class in front of the home crowd that’s assembled in the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad.
At the end of it all, he not only displays batting prowess, but also a steady disposition. He scores a mammoth 159 from 306 deliveries and is the only centurion of the Indian innings, before he is dismissed at 387-6.
He has batted for a total of almost 8 hours.
Stylish? Not really. Sincere? Most definitely.
It’s 91-1. Lokesh Rahul has been scalped by a ferocious and springy Pat Cummins, who has made an inspired comeback in the Australian Test side. Pujara comes in, riding high on confidence from his strong knock in Bangalore. The sun is scorching.
The pitch, that has already been tirelessly scrutinised, has variable bounce. The opposition, with a total of 451 and a daunting lead of 360, looks fiery and ready to take charge of the game. Can the Saurashtra batsman create an impact once again?
The Sardar Patel stadium in Ahmedabad is oozing with untamed energy. The “revenge” series against England has just begun. India need to respond to its 4-0 whitewash in England last year.
MS Dhoni wins the toss and decides to bat first. The opening partnership flourished well until Gambhir fell for 45. Pujara has now entered at a substantial total of 134-1. Does the 24-year-old have it in him to keep the ball in India’s court?
He does not disappoint. Pairing with Virender Sehwag, who is in the mood to bludgeon the ball around, Pujara creates an effective combination of power with precaution. He continues even after Sehwag departs and stays unbeaten until MS Dhoni declares at 521-8.
Pujara has scored the first double century of his career. After the declaration, his score reads 206 not out off 389 deliveries.
He was on the pitch for more than 8.5 hours.
The score is 276-4. India has lost Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane for less than 100 runs. Pujara, the successor to ‘The Wall’, watches the wickets tumble at the other end. The scoreboard says he’s on 95. He might as well be on 9.
The Saurashtra batsman has copious amounts of concentration. He has perfected the ‘art of leaving’ while creating a bubble of self-assurance around himself. He knows a loose delivery when he sees one and he punishes it every time it comes his way.
There is no glitch, no weakness, no lapse. There’s nothing but undying resilience in Pujara’s batting today.
After having bundled the Australians for a total of 237, the hosts are in a spot of bother. Sehwag has just returned to the pavilion. The scoreboard reads 17-1. Pujara joins a resolute Murali Vijay in the middle. He looks determined to create an impact. The pair begin to torment the Kangaroos; their agony would go on for 473 minutes and 370 runs.
They end with the highest second wicket partnership in India’s Test history. Pujara scores a monumental double century yet again, breaking and making individual records as well. He has crossed the milestone of 1000 Test runs becoming the second fastest Indian to reach 1000 runs.
Extra Cover: The significance of Cheteshwar Pujara
This is his fourth Test hundred. He has made the No. 3 spot his own. Hyderabad has been special for him.
His 7.5 hours in the middle show that he is here to stay.
The short ball clips the glove and Ashwin’s miserable form with the bat continues. The Kangaroos still lead by a considerable margin of 123 runs. As Wriddhiman Saha takes guard with Pujara, and any Indian fan would be worried. A couple of wickets now could be deadly to India’s chances of winning the game.
The pair show grit, and one is reminded of the Dravid-Laxman heroics at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata against the same position, just 16 years ago. Pujara, who has reached his 11th Test century, has blended his relentless effort with Saha’s offensive stroke play beautifully.
The Australians look frustrated now.
The New Wanderer’s stadium in Johannesburg is buzzing with anticipation. The Indian team is in a precarious situation in the 3rd innings and has already lost two wickets for 93 runs. They lead the South Africans by 129 runs, but they would need a lot more runs on the board. Virat Kohli has now joined Pujara in the middle.
Dale Steyn is breathing fire, Vernon Philander has already scalped a wicket and Jacques Kallis is pitching the ball in the right areas with accuracy.
Both batsmen show tremendous zeal to build a 223-run stand to put the Indians in a commanding position. Pujara toils to notch up a brilliant 150 before finally falling for 153. He is the only centurion of the innings. It is his first ton on foreign soil.
His innings is 7 minutes short of 6 hours.
Saha has adjusted well to the conditions to reach a very well deserved century. Pujara, 199 not out, is on strike now. He flicks to run a single to score his third double-century in just 47Test matches. He has not put a foot wrong in this match.
His uncharacteristic celebration, with a leap in the air along with a fist pump, shows how much it means to him.
He has batted for an astounding number of balls – 525. He has overtaken Dravid in the maximum balls faced in an innings of a Test match. Zen levels of concentration, extreme dedication and seamless toil have finally been rewarded.
The series is well poised at 1-1. This is the deciding Test and both Sri Lanka and India have played hard cricket till now. The hosts have won the toss at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo and have decided to field first.
KL Rahul is joined by Pujara at the other end, who is opening today to replace the injured Murali Vijay. Can he make up for the absence of his teammate? This is the first time he will open in a Test match.
Pujara not only rises to the occasion but carries his bat through the innings. The last time an Indian managed to do that was when another No. 3 was forced to open due to an injury to his fellow teammate – Rahul Dravid, who went on to score 146* against England at the Oval.
Pujara has shown that he can bat well with the tail too, and has silenced his critics once again.
He has batted in excess of 7.5 hours.
Nathan Lyon finally finds a way to dismiss Pujara. India’s score reads 528-7. The hosts now have a 77-run lead over the Australians. Pujara has batted for 11 hours and 5 minutes.
The life of a No. 3 batsman is hard. An early wicket means he has to steady the ship with careful batting. A late wicket means he has to keep the scoreboard ticking without compromising on the brisk run rate. A dismissal just before lunch means walking out to face that one delivery.
It is even harder for a Test specialist; while other cricketers get to compensate for the loss of Test form in limited overs cricket, a Test specialist has no international platform to showcase his form after a poor performance in a series.
Pujara’s average of 51.95 is higher than Kohli’s 49.41. He has 11 Test hundreds to go with his 14 test fifties. He might have failed to create an impression in England and Australia, but has been supremely consistent everywhere else in the world, and, especially in India.
Here is a man who collect hours, not runs. Hours of concentration, hours of sweat and hours of dedication. When most Indian players were attracted to the glitz and glamour of IPL, Pujara quietly went to become a better cricketer in England. His county stint with Yorkshire was both helpful and effective. In this era, when aggression is to swear at the opponents and show disrespectful gestures, Pujara stands out with his silent intent.
The Saurashtra batsman deserves the credit, respect and adulation of his peers and fans.
“I’m nowhere in Dravid’s class and just do not deserve to be his replacement,” Pujara once said.
He need not be anyone’s replacement anymore. All he needs is to be himself and Indian Test cricket would be just fine.