Amidst fanfare and celebrations,Cheteshwar Pujara in the zonehttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/print/amidst-fanfare-and-celebrations-cheteshwar-pujara-in-the-zone/

Amidst fanfare and celebrations,Cheteshwar Pujara in the zone

The ton set up a big total for India in their first innings,495,giving them a lead of 313.

Thirty thousand voices bellowing one name,that of the man at the other end. Cheteshwar Pujara had had to deal with this ever since he had begun his innings on Day One,when neither he nor Sachin Tendulkar had faced a ball yet. When in flow,Pujara can make it look like he’s playing a different match or batting on a different wicket. At the Wankhede,it looked like Pujara was performing in an alternate universe.

Later in the day,he reiterated on a couple of occasions how difficult it had been for him to cope with the pandemonium. But with bat in hand,almost inevitably,Pujara hardly looked fazed. As always,he remained fixated on his task.

As always,he seemed to be in a trance while doing what he does best,scoring runs. Here though,he had to do this in an atmosphere that resembled a heavy metal concert.

Pujara prevailed and stroked his way to his fifth Test century in his last 19 innings. The ton set up a big total for India in their first innings,495,giving them a lead of 313. While Pujara top-scored with 113,Rohit Sharma smashed a blistering 111 and Virat Kohli stroked his way to an aggressive 57 — Tendulkar scored 74,of course — on a day when the hosts kept their foot on the pedal and scored at a rate of nearly five runs an over.

Laying the foundation

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Once more,it was India’s prolific No.3 who laid the foundation. To start with,he had to overcome the stress of batting alongside Tendulkar in potentially his last international innings. Pujara’s singles were being greeted with more frenzy than his boundaries for they were bringing the man of the moment on strike,though he did get a loud ovation when he reached his half-century.

His boundaries,most of them,were eye-catching. Seven of the 12 on the day came via the trademark Pujara cut.

He repeatedly sent the ball scurrying past the point and backward point fielders off both pace and spin,looking elegant as ever. The singles and the braces,meanwhile,were mainly tucked and clipped away behind and in front of square on the on side.

Tendulkar’s departure from the middle might have left the Wankhede crowd in stunned silence. But in a way it only triggered a tempo boost to India’s innings. Kohli walked in and cover-drove the first delivery he faced before Pujara added a couple at the other end. By the time the Wankhede had found its voice again,the two had taken the score past 300 with Kohli bringing up his half-century off only 53 balls.

Pujara was probably lucky to survive on 76,when Kieran Powell looked to have hung on to a tough low chance at short-leg. But even though it looked out,replays couldn’t confirm that the West Indies opener’s outstretched fingers were completely under the ball.

Kohli fell soon after,caught at slip to a ball that straightened from Shane Shillingford. Rohit Sharma came in and got going with two fours and a six over long on,off the visitors’ only potent bowler.

Pujara added a delectable straight drive and an adventurous paddle-scoop to his boundary collection before picking up a single in his favoured zone to bring up his second consecutive ton at the Wankhede. This time the thousands who had stayed back despite Tendulkar’s exit roared in acknowledgement. He fell soon after,caught and bowled by Shillingford off a leading edge.

Shillingford apart,the West Indian attack ranged from toothless to tactless and the Indians kept stretching the game away from Darren Sammy & Co at a rapid pace. Tino Best was his erratic self even though he got MS Dhoni caught behind just like in Kolkata. The rest were ineffectual. What followed was the Rohit show.

As West Indies commenced their second innings,the main concern around the Wankhede was the potential duration of the second Test. By stumps,it had become clear that a third-day finish was very much on the cards with West Indies in tatters at 43/3,owing to an unfathomably rash shot from Powell and R Ashwin getting rid of Darren Bravo yet again with a classical off-break. In all likelihood,Indian cricket may just be another day away from the post-Tendulkar era and the commencement of the debate surrounding their next No.4.

But for the umpteenth occasion,Pujara established that No.3 looks very much in safe hands.