Cheteshwar Pujara has played 36 Tests for India, scored 2,544 runs, at an average of 47.11 and hit seven hundreds, including two double hundreds. 1,543 of those runs and five of those tons have come in India. The right-hander’s average soars to 64.29 at home and he’s a certainly a tough nut to crack in home conditions.
New Zealand had a good taste of that when he walked out to bat after the dismissal of opener KL Rahul. It was the 12th over of the innings, and the ball still had the sheen and hardness intact. Pujara’s walk to the middle was brimming with confidence. Not because the conditions he was walking in were no alien but the kind of run he has had before the series.
Two big daddy, ‘Pujaraesque’ outings in the Duleep Trophy and Pujara of the old was back in his zone. He was back to batting with the skates on and effortlessly transferring the weight, and making most of the depth of the batting crease. He would rock back on to the back-foot when the bowler pitched it short and jumped out when a spinner gave enough air for him to get under the ball.
Pujara’s two favourite shots, which suggest he’s in the zone, were going on Thursday. The cut behind, and in front of square, and the quick charge to the pitch of the ball to work it in the mid on region. Thirty five out of Pujara’s 62 came in those areas and he played a chanceless knock before making a frustrating walk back to the hut.
It was a crucial knock for Pujara, at the start of the long home season. He was in and out of the team, and needed an assured knock to get his and the team management’s confidence back. Pujara flourished under former Test captain MS Dhoni, scoring 1,279 runs in 13 matches but is yet to get going under Kohli, scoring only 264 runs in the five matches he has played so far.
This knock not only helps Pujara get a longer rope but also solves the team’s headache for the top three. For a couple of Tests, at least, they now need to worry only about the openers as no.3 seems sorted with the solid right-hander.
As far as worries are concerned, Rohit Sharma’s no.6 position is another one but that’s something which will be touched later in the Test. Till then, it will be advised to watch Pujara’s knock, over and over again. At lease before any New Zealand batsman manages a similar effort.