Pujara ton highlight on India’s day

Pujara’s unbeaten 119 was an innings of glacial composure and helped the Indians tide through their dips in a day that remained for the better part tightly competed. The game is more in India’s control now: the total has just crossed 300, captain MS Dhoni is batting on 29 alongside Pujara and the batsmen believe the wicket has begun to slow down, the ball started to turn. Regardless of how much of the turning is just hokey talk, New Zealand do bat last and India do have two spinners.

Hyderabad was expected to offer proof of what India’s gen next middle-order was supposed to look like following the retirement of both Dravid and Laxman. If Pujara has just got his finger prints all over the No.3 slot, Virat Kohli had done enough in the last year to let it be known that his place in the team these days is a given.

Pujara’s fourth wicket 125-run partnership with Kohli formed the centerpiece of India’s batting today. When Kohli came in to bat, India had lost their seniormost specialist batsmen – Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar – with more than half the day’s play remaining. The score was 125-3 and New Zealand’s three-man frontline seam attack (James Franklin’s military medium not exactly threatening) were asking enough questions of a side that has lost eight of its last 11 Tests.

Pujara and Kohli paced and weighted their partnership well. They were helped by the fact that, the moment Tendulkar fell, New Zealand captain Ross Taylor continued to offer the batsmen Jeetan Patel at one end for as many as eight overs. No matter what or who came to them from the other end, for a passage of time Patel was, for all his containment, the pressure-releasing bowler.

New Zealand were not helped by their slip cordon either – make that by their captain Taylor, whose nightmare could said to have begun in the morning, when he lost the toss. Three genuine catches went down today; these do not including Daniel Flynn backpedalling from square leg trying to get to one that Sehwag had ballooned up off Chris Martin or Pujara’s only chance all day, when on 60, to Flynn at short leg. The three New Zealand let go were all behind the wicket and Taylor featured in all of them: Sehwag on 35 hit one between Taylor and the keeper Kruger van Wyk; Patel had Kohli pushing at one when on 46, with Taylor caught on the wrong foot, and Dhoni went through Taylor’s hands off the second ball he faced.

It was a pity because for most of the day New Zealand’s seamers had kept at their job. They made use of the new ball and the conditions that helped them eke out any swing, getting rid of the Indian openers inside the first session, Sehwag and Gambhir both falling to loose shots. Tendulkar was gone less than an hour into the second session, Boult bursting through his gate with one that swung late into him. Boult was New Zealand’s bowler for most of the day, sending down a controlled line, moving the ball both ways at good pace.

When the third session began, however, Pujara and Kohli were able to lean on the bowling. India had knocked off 35 runs inside the first five overs after tea. Doug Bracewell limped off with a cramp in the second over, bringing on backup Franklin with makeshift spinner Kane Williamson turning up to bowl a few overs to inch New Zealand closer to the second new ball.

Franklin went for three boundaries in the second over after tea and Pujara deposited Williamson’s half-tracker in the stands over midwicket. Kohli looked in complete control, all classical style merged with contemporary improvisation. In the first hour after tea, India’s two middle-order tykes had put up 56 in 11 overs to the New Zealand allsorts combination of Franklin, Williamson and Patel.

Martin was brought back to stem the tide and against the run of play Kohli, who had crossed his fifty by edging one off Patel, tried to square cut Martin, like Sehwag had. Like Sehwag, he too edged it to Martin Guptill at second slip, out for 58.

By then Pujara was already on 95, having raced through the second half of his innings, close to a run a ball. This after his first 50 had come off 119 balls, batting alongside Sehwag and Tendulkar. Unmindful of the calm that is associated with India’s No 3 slot, Pujara glided one past gully for a boundary off Martin to reach 99 and blocked the next three. Only when Franklin drifted down leg did Pujara flick him to fine leg and sprint through for the single that took him to his century. His grin was the size of the stadium.

Ten runs later, Raina was out, caught behind flicking Patel down leg. Which once again seemed to remind Pujara of his duties as anchor: Dhoni came in at 260-5, the two putting on 47 in the 15-odd overs they had to play out to stumps. Without Bracewell, New Zealand had to split the new ball between Martin, who had already bowled five spells in the day and Boult, who bowled his 16 overs in six lots.

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