Stepping into the giant shoes of Rahul Dravid can be daunting mentally. Cheteshwar Pujara was not overwhelmed by the occasion. India’s new No. 3 reached the three-figure mark in an innings that bristled with possibilities on an eventful Thursday, the first day of the opening Test against New Zealand at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here.
At stumps on an entertaining day, that also saw the Kiwis fighting hard, India was 307 for five. Pujara was unbeaten on 119 (226b, 15x4, 1x6) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni on 29.
Displaying commitment, Pujara was around to counter the threat from the second new ball. Indeed, the day belonged to the 24-year-old right-hander from Saurashtra.
The poise in his batsmanship is unmistakable. His stance is relaxed and head still, and the distribution of weight is hence good in both offence and defence.
Crucially, he appears relaxed in the middle; a healthy sign in a No. 3 batsman. For most part, he met the ball with great composure and a broad blade.
Pujara does make interesting reading technically. He has a slight trigger movement forward but does not commit himself onto the front foot. Resultantly, he can, depending on the length, shift his weight to the back foot in a jiffy.
The young man’s solidity off the back-foot and judicious play when probed in the corridor augurs well for India. When the Kiwis attacked him with short-pitched stuff, Pujara was balanced and side-on. Chris Martin bounced one and Pujara pulled.
Of course, stiffer conditions and better bowling attacks await Pujara. The indications, however, are promising.
He did reveal innings-building skills. Pujara possessed patience — a vital ingredient — but at no stage did he get bogged down. He was strong between point and cover, and any width by the Kiwi pacemen was punished.
And the right-hander used his feet against spin; he read the trajectory well and picked the gaps.
The 125-run fourth-wicket partnership between Pujara and Virat Kohli (58) lent substance to the Indian innings.
Kohli flashed a few through the off-side, was strong off his legs. He was also a tad chancy — he had a reprieve on 46 when skipper Ross Taylor reacted late at slip after the batsman edged an attempted cut off off-spinner Jeetan Patel.
Eventually, when Kohli sought to slash a widish delivery from Martin, he was snapped up in the cordon. Soon, southpaw Suresh Raina, attempting to turn one, nicked down the leg-side to ’keeper van Wyk off Patel.
From the pavilion end, the odd delivery turned. The host had won a good toss.
Steady pace bowling, assisted by a measure of bounce in the track and conditions that encouraged swing, tested the Indian batsmen in the morning. Young left-armer Trent Boult’s swing complemented Martin’s seam movement.
Boult, in particular, bowled an aggressive fuller length, inviting the batsmen for the drive and moving the sphere. Gautam Gambhir lived dangerously, edging one past the cordon, before perishing to an away-from-the-body waft off Boult.
Virender Sehwag, he of bat-speed and hand-eye coordination, veered between the spectacular and the ordinary. The opener had a slice of luck on 21 when Daniel Flynn at square-leg was sluggish in taking off for the skier after the batsman had miscued a pull off Martin.
The bait was laid — Taylor had a gully rather deep in place for the uppish cut — when paceman Doug Bracewell bowled at Sehwag, but the intrepid opener still dabbed him over the cordon. Bracewell, a handy swing bowler with a strong release, prised out Sehwag (47) when the batsman attempted to cut one that came in from too close to his body.
Actually, the fifth delivery of the previous over from Bracewell could have set Sehwag up. On that occasion, the delivery swung away, and the resultant edge flew between the ’keeper and first slip. This time around, the ball darted back.
The Kiwis had an injury scare when Bracewell left the field after sending down four deliveries of his 11th over. It turned out to be a case of cramps and Bracewell was back on the field during the closing stages of the day.
Sachin Tendulkar was circumspect, but struggled for rhythm. Boult, switching his line admirably to the right-hander, brought one back to find Tendulkar’s middle stump; perhaps, the maestro could have played forward to the delivery to check the movement.
To his credit, Taylor maintained attacking fields, left open spaces in the deep, and, for most part, had more than one slip in place for even well-settled batsmen.
Pujara, though, proved a roadblock for the visitor.
India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir c van Wyk b Boult 22 (36b, 4x4), V. Sehwag c Guptill b Bracewell 47 (41b, 9x4), C. Pujara (batting) 119 (226b, 15x4, 1x6), S. Tendulkar b Boult 19 (62b, 2x4), V. Kohli c Guptill b Martin 58 (107b, 8x4), S. Raina c van Wyk b Patel 3 (13b), M.S. Dhoni (batting) 29 (37b, 2x4, 1x6), Extras (b-6, lb-3, w-1) 10; Total (for five wkt in 87 overs) 307.
Fall of wickets: 1-49 (Gambhir), 2-77 (Sehwag), 3-125 (Tendulkar), 4-250 (Kohli), 5-260 (Raina).
New Zealand bowling: Martin 18-2-60-1, Boult 16-2-63-2, Bracewell 10.4-1-53-1, Franklin 11.2-0-33-0, Patel 24-6-58-1, Williamson 7-0-31-0.