STANDING TALL, Cheteshwar Pujara orchestrated arguably the most exquisite stroke of his innings. It was a crisply caressed cover drive off Stuart Binny to complete yet another first-class century, his 33rd to be exact. The celebrations were fairly mellowed and understated – arms aloft, a fleeting glance at the skies, followed by the gentle shake of hands. The shot also underscored the fairly assured and unhurried manner in which he had collected his runs on Day 1 of the Duleep Trophy final between India Red and India Blue at the Greater Noida Stadium.
Pujara has been bogged down in the recent past in international fixtures, with most observers taking a swipe at his poor conversion rate and below par strike rate. He has managed to answer his critics with well composed back-to-back tons, which showed he had found his verve and insatiable appetite for big runs.
The standout feature of his innings was the manner in which he paced the innings. On a placid wicket, and against insipid India Red’s bowling, Pujara batted with intent and scored at a brisk rate. The 28-year-old reached his fifty with an fierce pull off Amit Mishra. He took 92 deliveries to reach the landmark. He, however, raced to his next fifty in just 63 deliveries. In the final session, Red’s bowlers looked jaded, and Pujara took full toll. His innings was sprightly and it showcased his full arc as a batsman, bringing out a series of flicks and drives. Pujara did not put a foot wrong today, unbeaten on 111. His strike-rate was an impressive 67.7.
The series of big scores bodes well for him, especially ahead of the upcoming home series against New Zealand. If Pujara showed intent, Rohit Sharma wowed the crowd of over 3,000 with his sheer elegance. Peppered with sumptuous shots through the off side, Rohit like his partner at the other end, had set his sights on a big score. That’s when impetuosity got the better of him. To Mishra’s well flighted delivery on off-stump, Rohit went for a mighty heave. It was a false stroke played across the line.
The Mumbaikar got a top edge, ending a promising stay at 30. Rohit was the lone guy in the batting order who had failed to get past the 50-run mark for India Blue on Day 1.Gautam Gambhir won his third successive toss this Duleep Trophy, and had no hesitation in taking first strike. His ploy was simple. Pile the runs on a benign track. Propelled by his opening partner Mayank, the duo stitched together their fourth century stand in as many innings. They survived a few close chances in the opening session. Barring that, they batted with ease. Mayank, fresh from his 161 in the last game, once again gave a good account of himself. He scored a fluent 57, before getting dismissed in a rather tepid manner, spooning a straight forward catch in the covers off Binny’s bowling
Gambhir motored along, but brought his demise just six runs short of a ton. This was the second time in the tournament that he was dismissed for a score in the 90s. After Raina in the previous game, it was Yuvraj’s turn to toil under the sun. Nothing went his way today, right from losing the toss at the start. His bowlers failed to get any purchase of this track, while spinners Amit Mishra and Kuldeep Yadav got sharp turn and bounce. However, they were guilty of bowling too short. At stumps on Saturday evening, Gambhir’s men had raced to 362 for the loss of just three wickets.