A deafening roar greeted Cheteshwar Pujara's hundred at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium. Clearly, he had struck an emotional chord with the Hyderabadis. The eruption of joy was their tribute to India’s wounded warrior, who braved a leg injury to make their Sunday special with a magical display of strokeplay.
The second day of the second Test was India’s all the way. Pujara registered the fourth hundred of his short, exciting Test career and opener Murali Vijay scored his second hundred. Riding on their unfinished 294-run second wicket partnership, the hosts finished on a lead of 74 runs.
In terms of pure test of skills, probably Pujara will rate his last hundred against England better, but this unbeaten 162 stood out for his gutsy display.
He hurt his right leg on the fourth ball he faced, when he dived to make his ground after going for a sharp single. Since then for Pujara, who has undergone operations on both knees, running between the wickets became a test of courage. He refused to take the easy way out of seeking treatment in the dressing room. Instead, he soldiered on in the harsh sun.
Australia had started the day brightly with Peter Siddle removing opener Virender Sehwag in the fifth over. But it was their only success of the day.
Down 1-0, Australia had to make the second day's play count. Surprisingly, their bowlers failed to extract purchase from the wicket like the Indians did.
Their strategy of building pressure on the batsmen too didn't work as Pujara and Vijay were biding their time. It was a classical display of Test batting. Cautious to begin with, they opened up once they had the measure of the wicket and the bowling. The numbers told the story: In the first session 49 runs came in 27 overs; in the second 106 runs came in 33 overs. The knockout punch was delivered post-tea, when they plundered 151 runs in 30 overs.
Pujara’s style is unique but the way he enthralled everyone with wristy play would have reminded the Hyderabad fans of their own 'Very Very Special' Laxman. The Saurashtra player's game had the same lingering affect. He played strokes all around the wicket but his driving was a joy to behold. He brought up his half-century with a carpet cover drive and reached his century with a double to square-leg before celebrating his 150 with a stunning hook for six off Siddle. Pujara, despite the injury, he outscored Vijay comfortably. Australia soon realised the only weakness the India No 3 had was his injured leg, and concentrated their energies on getting him run out. Every time there was a run to be taken, they tried extra hard to target Pujara's end. The two forged good understanding and Vijay was careful against pushing his partner too hard.
Having failed in the first two innings at Chennai, it was do-or-die for Vijay. To his credit he made it count. An aggressive player, he curbed his attacking instincts till he was settled.