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Pujara arrives with poise and purpose as runs pour off bat

Friday, 16 November 2012 - 8:36am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Indian No3 displays the elegance of idol Dravid as he justifies selectors' faith after winning injury fight.

Cheteshwar Pujara - the name does not exactly roll off the tongue, but the runs look destined to pour off the bat. If the England bowlers thought India's new No3 represented a potential weak link in an intimidating top six, they will think differently now.

Pujara defied them for more than four hours on day one with poise and purpose, never once offering a chance and rarely playing a false stroke. His maiden Test hundred against New Zealand in August was obviously not just a flat-track bully tramping all over a moderate attack.

His innings did not match the pure artistry of Virender Sehwag, whose nonchalant genius elicits general sympathy for bowlers (and captains) on such insipid surfaces, as he almost frivolously toys with their lengths and field settings.

Pujara, in contrast, had the ability and the sense to establish himself quietly when he came in after lunch by giving Sehwag the strike. But he soon exhibited presence at the crease with a secure and committed defence - front foot determinedly placed, head meticulously positioned - some punchy drives and a dismissive pull from Samit Patel. Making use of the depth of the crease against Graeme Swann, stepping right back to cut and skipping out to drive, he belonged in this exalted environment, and eased to a 67-ball fifty.

One man's purring was louder than all the stadium's applause. That man was Rahul Dravid, watching from the commentary box. He was still purring at the end of the day. "Pujara did everything I could have done, and better," Dravid said, forever playing down his own achievements (just the 36 Test hundreds and 13,000 Test runs). Pujara is certainly a cricketer built in his image - a throwback to an era of batsmanship featuring orthodoxy and resolution and eschewing all that modern ostentatiousness and newfangled shots. Dravid was his idol, his blueprint, and he has enjoyed the benefit of his experience, willingly passed on recently in a couple of lengthy conversations on the art of batting.

Earmarked from a young age, having scored four triple hundreds, one aged 13, Pujara earned two Test caps against Australia in 2010 - at Dravid's expense - but was then sidelined by injury. In the interim other burgeoning batting talents, such as Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, gained prominence in the Indian Premier League - where even the understudies attain star status - and leapfrogged him in the Test batting queue.

None quite grasped their chance and, the selectors, temporarily dazzled by the IPL's bright lights, got back down to earth in time to realise Pujara was their man. They returned to him once he had recovered fitness and form. He has repaid the faith, with just one failure in four innings and this polished performance here.

It was an innings full of intent from an early fluent drive against Stuart Broad, some exquisite glides backward of point which had Dravid's elegance written all over them, and dainty footwork. He had one slice of luck when Jimmy Anderson over-anticipated a leading edge and it looped agonisingly over his head. He was positive against Swann - the essence of combating spin - playing the percentages.

He drove the ball wide of the short midwicket, caressed it past extra cover, kept his shots on the floor. He did not try to cut a ball which was too full (Gambir), slog across a straight one (Sehwag), miscue a lofted drive (Tendulkar) or leave a gaping hole between bat and pad (Kohli). The fact that he outlasted his more celebrated colleagues in company with Yuvraj Singh made it India's day. Note the name.

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