Pujara answers India's call

Right-hander slams maiden century as hosts reach 307 for five on day one

Pujara answers India's call

If there were any doubts about the young guns’ ability to step up and take India’s batting mantle in the aftermath of the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VV Laxman, quite a few of them may have been dispelled on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand.

Yes, the pitch here at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium was far from being devious. The New Zealand attack was no more than honest with its limited incisive powers further blunted by the difficult bowling conditions. One of their main bowlers – Doug Bracewell – even walked off the field just after half day’s play (in the 54th over after suffering cramps) while a few missed chances added to visitors’ growing frustration. Yet, it’s international cricket; more importantly Test cricket. And there are no easy runs at this level.

It isn’t without a reason Cheteshwar Pujara is being touted as the next Wall. On a humid Thursday, the Saurashtra batsman, walking in after the fall of opener Gautam Gambhir, scripted an authoritative century that would have left even the original number three – Rahul Dravid – a proud man. It was largely on the right-hander’s unbeaten 119 (226b, 15x4, 1x6) that India, after opting to bat first, finished Thursday’s play on a healthy 307 for five. Skipper MS Dhoni was batting on a brisk 29, keeping India’s hopes alive of a big first innings total.

In notching up a stroke-filled maiden ton, Pujara also justified team management’s decision to promote him to crucial number three instead of an in-form Virat Kohli (58, 107b, 8x4) who himself did no harm to his growing reputation as a quality Test batsman with another innings of substance. It was his 125-run association with Pujara for the fourth wicket that put India’s innings back on track after the hosts found themselves in a spot at 125 for three. The 23-year-old, however, played a rather careless shot to throw his wicket away while appearing primed for his second triple figure in Tests.

Come to think of it, his two other Delhi senior mates too were guilty of falling to poor strokes. Gambhir and Virender Sehwag (47, 41b, 9x4) weren’t at sea but the two weren’t completely convincing either. Gambhir poked at a Boult delivery that shaped away from him to offer a simple catch to stumper Kruger van Wyk. As he always does, Sehwag lived dangerously, teasing the Kiwi players with half chances and exhilarating the over-15,000 spectators with his audacious batting during which he once reeled off four consecutive fours spread over two overs. The right-hander eventually ran out of luck and one of those shots was nicely plucked in the slips off Bracewell who only in his previous over agonisingly watched a Sehwag edge go without being attempted by either Ross Taylor or the wicketkeeper.

Sachin Tendulkar hung around for a while before a beauty from Boult bowled him neck and crop. The left-arm seamer got one to peg back and the Mumbaikar, cramped for space, couldn’t negotiate the ball. With the big three back, India were in definite trouble but Pujara and Kohli batted with enough care to keep the Kiwis from making further dents into home innings.

If Pujara felt the weight of world on his young shoulders upon his return to the Test fold, he displayed few signs of it as he put on a nerveless batting display. Having warmed up with a pulled four off Chris Martin, Pujara looked at ease dealing with both the hard-working pacers and the spin of Jeetan Patel and Kane Williamson. Having got his eye in, Pujara farmed most of the strike during Kohli’s initial phase and switched back into caution mode after the latter’s dismissal. The 24-year-old paced his innings well and never allowed the pressure to build when India lost Sehwag and then Tendulkar.

While the Kiwi bowlers can be blamed for failing to build on the breakthroughs they earned, credit should also be given to Pujara and Kohli for negating the visitors’ advantage.

Score Board

INDIA (I Innings):
Gambhir c van Wyk b Boult    22
(47m, 36b, 4x4)
Sehwag c Guptill b Bracewell    47
(74m, 41b, 9x4)
Pujara (batting)    119
(345m, 226b, 15x4, 1x6)
Tendulkar b Boult    19
(86m, 62b, 2x4)
Kohli c Guptill b Martin    58
(145m, 107b, 8x4)
Raina c van Wyk b Patel    3
(25m, 13b)
Dhoni (batting)    29
(58m, 37b, 2x4, 1x6)
Extras (B-6, LB-3, W-1)    10
Total (for 5 wkts, 87 overs)    307
Fall of wickets: 1-49 (Gambhir), 2-77 (Sehwag), 3-125 (Tendulkar), 4-250 (Kohli), 5-260 (Raina).
Bowling: Martin 18-2-60-1, Boult 16-2-63-2, Bracewell 10.4-1-53-1, Franklin 11.2-0-33-0 (w-1), Patel 24-6-58-1, Williamson 7-0-31-0.

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