Pujara rises to the challenge
Cheteshwar Pujara struck an unbeaten century as India began life without Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in encouraging fashion on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand in Hyderabad.
Pujara, inserted at number three following the retirements of two of his country’s greatest batsmen, struck 119 in his first international appearance since January 2011.
His maiden Test ton underpinned a home total of 307 for five and left India, who won the toss, well placed to post a healthy first-innings total on a dry and dusty wicket.
After Virender Sehwag had contributed a typically aggressive 47 at the top of the order, the patient Pujara shared 125 with Virat Kohli and also received able support from Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Kohli chipped in with 58, while India’s captain was unbeaten on 29 at stumps.
However, the day belonged to a man earning only his fourth Test cap, who will surely now be given the chance to nail down a regular place in India’s batting line-up.
Pujara came to the crease after 10 overs when Gautam Gambhir gave away his wicket in loose fashion.
The left-handed opener had 22 to his name when he looked to guide Trent Boult down to third man and succeeded only in edging through to wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk.
Sehwag was well caught at second slip off Doug Bracewell soon after, having ridden his luck during a frantic 41-ball knock featuring nine fours.
When Boult bowled Sachin Tendulkar for 19 after lunch with one that nipped back off a good length, India were wobbling on 125 for three and much depended on Pujara and Kohli, who boasted just 11 Test caps between them prior to this match.
The duo responded admirably with a composed alliance spanning more than 33 overs, although both were dropped off Jeetan Patel at the beginning of the evening session.
Pujara was on 60 when Daniel Flynn failed to take a sharp chance at short-leg and went on to capitalise with a flurry of boundaries, including a six over long-on off Kane Williamson.
Kohli also received a life in moving to 50 with a thick outside edge that Ross Taylor should have taken to slip.
However, the mistake did not prove too costly as Kohli departed in similar fashion to Sehwag, caught at second slip looking to cut Chris Martin.
Suresh Raina made only three before edging down the leg side to van Wyk, providing Patel with a deserved breakthrough.
That dismissal came soon after Pujara had moved to three figures, although the centurion received another let-off before stumps when a glove through to the keeper went unnoticed.