At the end of the second day of England’s warm-up match against Mumbai A, in which India’s new number 3, Cheteshwar Pujara, scored a composed 87, the 24-year-old from Rajkot was keen to underplay his achievement, but his remarks were to prove eerily prescient.
“This match gave me a chance to get used to the actions of the England bowlers, have a look at their strengths,” he said. When asked what they might have learned of him, he concluded, with a smile: “I guess since I’ve scored runs it’s fair to say I’ve learned more.”
He certainly took England’s bowlers to school on Days 1 and 2 of the first Test at Ahmedabad, and reminded those who pay attention to domestic form that when he scores he has a tendency to score big. In first-class cricket, 9 of his 16 hundreds have been scores of over 150; one of those was a triple hundred. When he lifted his bat to the Indian dressing room today to celebrate his 200 – his second Test century after 159 against New Zealand at Hyderabad back in August – you could sense the relief and satisfaction that came with the cementing of the belief that India have found their replacement to the man they called the Wall, Rahul Dravid.
While it’s a little premature to be drawing lofty comparisons so early, there were times during Pujara’s innings when one could have been watching the great man himself in action. Before this Test, I wrote that it’d be interesting to see how he’d go because I hadn’t seen much of him. Then I remembered, glancing back through some of the older entries on this blog, that I’d seen him on debut at Bangalore in 2010. That match was memorable for Shane Warne taking to Twitter to criticise Ricky Ponting’s field placings for Nathan Hauritz, but it also marked the day Pujara scored a calm and assured 72; it seemed his maturity and self composure was evident even then. Then, as today, he showed himself solid in defence, strong off the back foot, with a tidy, unruffled approach to finding the gaps in the field and scoring on both sides of the wicket. It was an auspicious beginning to a career that was then forced onto the back burner for 18 months due to a chronic knee injury that required two operations.
Perhaps at this stage it might be more accurate to call Pujara a buttress, given his predecessor’s monumental achievements built over a long and illustrious career, but when Dhoni called his men in today on 521-8 with Pujara not out on 206, it was clear that the latter was the bulwark that England’s bowling attack had dashed itself against to no avail.
England proved similarly clueless when it came to the 18 overs they batted before the close; retreating into their shells against the spin of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ohja and finishing up 3 wickets down for only 41 runs and still 480 runs behind.
In the interview afterwards, Pujara said the plan for India for tomorrow was to take the seven remaining England wickets and then take ten more. Nothing is set in stone, but the task facing the visitors – to somehow salvage a draw – seems insurmountable, and he has been instrumental in making this happen.
Before the start of this series, all the talk when it came to India’s new batting talent was of Virat Kohli. Now, the man they call “Che” has joined him in setting a foundation for a new legacy in Indian cricket. Viva la Revolución.