After his unbeaten 119 for India on the first day of their Test series with New Zealand, is Cheteshwar Pujara, so long touted as “the new Dravid”, finally coming of age?
Returning to the Test side after 20 months away, the composed number three hit 15 fours and one six in 226 deliveries, to leave his side well poised on 307-5 overnight.
Playing in just his fourth Test match and first since the retirement of the Indian great Rahul Dravid, Pujara played with elegance and grit to grind down the Kiwi bowlers and finish the day unbeaten.
Coming in at 49-1, following the fall of Gautam Gambhir, Pujara didn’t look back as his partners came and went during his 77-over vigil at the crease. He stared in partnerships of 28, 48, 125, 10 and an unbeaten 47 with captain M.S Dhoni, as he composed his maiden Test hundred. After scoring an impressive 72 in Bangalore on his debut against Australia back in late 2010, he has played just two further Test matches since, both away in South Africa in early 2011. Whilst batting at number six, he struggled for the big scores he was renowned for at first-class level.
After the series in South Africa, Pujara was dropped from the Test side for the tour of the West Indies and replaced at six by Suresh Raina. Then the slide in Indian Cricket arrived. After their World Cup victory on home soil, they went into their tour of England as number one Test team in the world, but since there has been a huge decline. Eight consecutive away Test matches were lost and with the team’s failures came the retirements. Rahul Dravid went first and was closely followed by VVS Laxman, with both opening up spots in the Indian middle-order, which was once a closed shop.
And then we get back to Pujara, who has spent the last 20 months biding his time and waiting for his second opportunity. This followed a serious knee injury in which surgery was required. He was kept out of action for six months. Always one with an appetite for ‘big runs’, Pujara went back to his state side Saurashtra and although he disappointed scoring just 200 runs in this year’s Ranji Trophy, he did impress for the Indian A side on their tour of the West Indies in June, scoring three half-centuries in his six first-class innings on the trip. He was again firmly back in the selectors’ plans.
What a comeback it has been. Pujara, who once scored a triple-century at Under-14 level, certainly hasn’t disappointed at Hyderabad during his return to the side. During his unbeaten 119, he gave just one half chance, when on 60, he hit Jeetan Patel towards Daniel Flynn at short-leg, who put down a tough catch.
With the hard work done, Pujara must now come back tomorrow, start again and turn his hundred into a statement to the selectors, “I’m here to stay.”
And so the Dravid comparisons continue!