New Zealand's Trent Boult bowls during the first day of the first cricket test match against India in Hyderabad. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
At 125/3, with the big guns gone, India stared at a sight that has become all too familiar in recent times, although away from home. Disaster. In walked Virat Kohli, the new age star. He chatted with his partner, Cheteshwar Pujara, who had already spent some time in the middle, and walked off confidently.
The talk was about building a partnership, a welcome thought for those who had assumed India will go downhill with T20 newbies in the line-up following the departure of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
Pujara, just the opposite of the effervescent Kohli, was at that time casting himself slowly but surely into a space dominated by Dravid for 16 years. It had been a year-and-a-half since he last played a Test, and it was clear he was hungry for the opportunity.
The similarity with the great didn't just end with the thought of building a partnership. The appetite, technique, poise and the pace of the knock were all Dravid-esque.
There was hardly a moment when the No 3 batsman did not show the face of the bat or cover the stumps like his predecessor used to; even to the innocuous spinner Jeetan Patel, and even when he was past his hundred, towards the end of the day.
Initial safety-first approach (leaving the deliveries) gradually gave way to confident strokes and then to bold ones. He admits patience is his forte, and that's a vital requirement for a batsman to succeed at No 3. “I cannot replace Dravid. It is impossible to replace him,” he said with modesty after the day's play, although his knock has only helped fuel such comparisons.
Pujara is traditional in not just his cricket. He sleeps early, enjoys home-cooked daal-sabzi, movies and cherishes time with the family.
On the field too, the lack of slam-bang strokes made him a misfit in IPL.
The devil abroad was the delivery outside the off. Here too, that weakness was getting exposed. The Kiwis had scalped Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, and even Kohli after tea, but Pujara picked each delivery sent down to him well. The youngster, who plays for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy, a weak batting line-up, he is used to getting exposed to the new ball. “I have opened for my company (Indian Oil Corporation) as well. So, I am used to facing the new ball,” he said.
A wristy flick a la Dravid opened his account. Soon after lunch, he was rocking back to cut spinner Jeetan Patel through the point for four. The seasoned paceman Chris Martin tried to unnerve him but Pujara swivelled on his foot and pulled the attempted snorter ferociously to square leg. No more chin music ensued.
There was just one chance, at 60, when the forward short-leg fielder spilled the chance. A vintage Pujara then made the tiring Kiwis pay, especially their most successful bowler, Trent Boult. The bowler, struggling for swing later and providing room, was punished for three fours in an over — two glides past gully and one ferocious cut through backward point.Scorecard