Kohli_Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli added 226 runs for the third wicket AFP

“We needed to build a partnership after losing a couple of early wickets. And the way Virat Kohli batted, we were able to build a partnership. We rotated the strike, and he was timing the ball very well,” said Cheteshwar Pujara after stumps of Day One of the second Test between India and England at Visakhapatnam. The Saurashtra batsman scored a stunning 119 his third hundred in as many Tests. And along with his captain, he added 226 runs for the third wicket to end the day’s play at 317 for 4, on a track that had very little assistance for the bowlers. LIVE Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 2nd Test at Vizag

The pitch curators termed the wicket as sporting, one that would assist both sides. But the pre-match report said otherwise, for the commentators believed that the cracks would open up, helping the spinners trap the batsmen in spin. “It’s a typical Vizag wicket. This will be challenging for the batters. Now we need to put decent runs on the board,” Kohli said after he chose to bat first. On the contrary, the track appeared a featherbed for the batsmen. To put things into perspective, if the track was sporting only for the batting units from both sides, then the report seems absolutely accurate.

Nonetheless, nothing bothered the in-form Pujara, as he made full use of the conditions and continued his run-fest.

To rewind a little, Pujara was dropped in the third Test of the India-West Indies series, citing a low strike rate. In addition, his knack of playing long was fading away. And to make matters worse, his overseas records put his place on the line.

As a result, the 13-Test home season was a litmus test for him. Pujara, for that matter, was back to square one. Now his task was to work on the chinks in his armour and prove his mettle, for there were other batters grabbing headlines in First-Class cricket.

He kickstarted with a resolute 62 in the series opener against New Zealand. And what followed was even more magnificent. To make the picture clearer, his scores in the last 5 matches read: 62, 78, 87, 4, 41, 101*, 124, 18, 119.

All in all, he scored 373 runs at 74.60 against New Zealand the most by any batsman in the 3-match series.

Pujara finally found his lost paradise on his home turf. Playing innings of substance at crucial junctures and building partnerships, he was at his sublime best. All he had to do was continue the ominous touch in the gruelling 5-Test series against England.

Pujara started off with a resounding 124, adding 209 for the second wicket with Murali Vijay at Rajkot. “I am really happy with the way I started off this series. Hundred at Rajkot was special to me. I want to maintain the form,” he said.

Pujara did exactly the same. He scored yet another ton, becoming the 11th Indian to score centuries in 3 consecutive Tests..

“I was confident because I had a hundred in my last game,” he added.

The eventual score at the end of Day One does not reveal the struggle India faced in the first hour. KL Rahul, who replaced Gautam Gambhir, went back to the pavilion without disturbing the scoreboard. James Anderson soon set Vijay up with a fierce bouncer to reduce India to 22 for 2.

The onus fell on Pujara and Kohli to steady the sinking ship. For a change, there was no Vijay at the other end to stitch a long partnership. This time Pujara had to do the same with Kohli, faster between wickets than him and Vijay combined.

“We thought of scoring 10-20 runs at a time and then take it forward. Miscommunication was there, but we spoke about it during lunch, and it was much better in the second session. You sometimes need to rotate strike and take singles,” Pujara concluded.

Pujara may not look as muscular and fit like Kohli. He may not be as agile as Rahane. But he has the tenacity to play big innings. Yes, we often see him falter while running between the wickets, but he is fit enough to score heaps of runs under a scorching heat.

Today was no different. In fact, his captain looked furious every time Pujara denied a quick single. Nonetheless, in the end, the duo stitched 226 runs despite losing early wickets.

In the previous series he was greatly criticised for failing to reach three-figure, and in the ongoing one he is being criticised for failing to match his reputation of scoring double-hundreds. And again, a lapse in concentration cost him his wicket as he flashed at a wide delivery, edging it to the wicketkeeper.

With 3 more matches to go, it will not be a surprise if Pujara scores those daddy hundreds and steals the Man of the Series award from the champion all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin.

On the other hand, Kohli scored his third 150-plus score this year, becoming the first Indian to do so in a calendar year.

Preview and predictions:

All England have to do is wrap the Indian innings as soon as possible. If they won’t, they will have to pile on runs until Day 4 and wait for another draw.

Meanwhile, India will look to bat as long as possible on Day Two. With Ashwin at the other end and Wriddhiman Saha still to bat, Kohli will aim to cross the 500-run mark.

Amidst all this, if Kohli does score his double-ton, he will become the first Indian captain and third captain to do so in a calendar year.

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)