Pujara keeps England at bay
Right-hander slams third Test ton to power India to 266/6 on opening day
There was a spin-friendly pitch, much in line with Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s demand. But then there was Cheteshwar Pujara as well, resisting the English spinners in an admirable show of skill and concentration.
India reached 266 for six at close on the first day of the second Test after electing to bat, and Pujara’s hand in it was massive. The Saurashtra lad, who had made a double hundred at Ahmedabad in the first Test, went on to make a hundred (114 n.o., 279b, 10x4) here at the Wankhede stadium, further asserting his right to be in the number three slot, left vacant by the legendary Rahul Dravid.
It’s quite remarkable to see how this young man shoulders such enormous amount of pressure without even flinching a single face muscle. England spinners – Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann – were right on top of their game on a pitch that offered appreciable turn and bounce from the first session itself.
But Pujara too was in his zone, so to say. Perhaps, he relishes a challenge, just like his predecessor, whose intense self used to shine through in tough situations. Here, then Pujara had to handle a situation. England bowlers had winkled out Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, who is playing in his 100th Test, for not too many.
The sight of three of your most experienced players walking back might not have been the best sight for a youngster who is playing in only his seventh Test. But Pujara turned that into another chance to show his mettle.
The right-hander began his Save India mission, milking 58 runs with Virat Kohli for the fourth wicket. They never seemed in any sort of trouble – taking well-judged singles and carving those occasional boundaries. Their partnership was the first sign of Indian fightback, but a Kohli aerial drive off Panesar that was caught by Nick Compton at covers ended their resistance.
Swann limited Yuvraj Singh’s stay to just two balls but Dhoni helped Pujara to realise an even fifty for the sixth-wicket before Panesar accounted for the Indian captain. The home side was suddenly at a wobbly 169 for six.
So, just the tail to come and isn’t it time to press the panic button? Perhaps, Pujara has surpassed the stage where such tiny frights can put his mind into turbulence. After all, he has seen the death of his mother at a tender age, and a knee injury that had almost threatened to end his career last year.
But still you require a confident partner at the other end to carry on, and R Ashwin (60 n.o., 84b, 9x4) provided Pujara just that. The Tamil Nadu right-hander, who began his career as an opener, was up to the challenge of negating English spinners on a rather spiteful opening day wicket.
The assurance Ashwin showed gave Pujara, who was dropped on 60 by Anderson at slip off Swann, also confidence to open up more, and the English bowlers soon left pondering a lot against the two free-flowing batsmen.
However, the English spinners too should take some blame for allowing the Indian pair to build an unbeaten 97-run stand for the seventh wicket. Panesar did well to use the pitch in the morning session when he jettisoned Sehwag and Tendulkar with superb deliveries that gripped and turned off the surface.
However, Swann from the other end was trying to deceive the batsmen in the air. On a normal day, the tactic would have yielded better results but here, the off-spinner’s approach took the pitch out of the equation, thus reducing his effectiveness. Panesar too joined Swann, and began to toss the ball up more as the day wore on, thereby creating more scoring chances for the Indians, which they exploited with glee.
The much-awaited Pujara hundred came in the last session of the day through a well-controlled pull off James Anderson. It was an innings that showcased all the aspects of Pujara’s batting such as patience, stroke-play and maturity that make him a fine international batsman.
More significantly, Pujara is still around so that India have a chance to take their first innings to much safer shores, and then hope their three spinners – Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh – would weave their magic on Englishmen.
INDIA (I Innings):
Gambhir lbw Anderson 4
Sehwag b Panesar 30
(73m, 43b, 4x4)
Pujara (batting) 114
(361m, 279b, 10x4)
Tendulkar b Panesar 8
(14m, 12b, 1x4)
Kohli c Compton b Panesar 19
(65m, 85b, 3x4)
Yuvraj b Swann 0
Dhoni c Swann b Panesar 29
(83m, 64b, 4x4)
Ashwin (batting) 60
(112m, 84b, 9x4)
Extras (LB-1, NB-1) 2
Total (For 6 wkts, 90 overs) 266
Fall of wickets: 1-4 (Gambhir), 2-52 (Sehwag), 3-60 (Tendulkar), 4-118 (Kohli), 5-119 (Yuvraj), 6-169 (Dhoni).
Bowling: James Anderson 14-3-49-1, Stuart Broad 12-1-60-0 (nb-1), Monty Panesar 34-7-91-4, Graeme Swann 26-5-59-1, Samit 4-1-6-0.