Cheteshwar Pujara, the new great hope of Indian cricket, is a man of few words. But when this writer spoke to him after his splendid double-century during the first innings of the Ahmedabad Test, the 24-year-old sounded a gentle but firm portent of things to come. "This is just a precursor. I'm batting extremely well and hitting the balls exactly in the manner I conceive in my head. I reckon I'll score two more hundreds in this series."
The statement perfectly exemplifies Pujara’s personality - serene, diligent and supremely confident. Every word spoken is well measured - just like the shots he unfurls - with an earnestness to put them into action. He certainly measured up to his words by cracking an even better century on the first day of the second Test in Mumbai, batting with the tranquility of a sage and holding one end firmly as wickets tumbled at the other.
The Wankhede pitch helped England's seamers in the morning and started assisting spinners after the first hour. All Pujara's more established team-mates struggled to score on a tricky pitch but Pujara seemed to be batting on a completely difficult surface. Barring one blip, when he was dropped on 60 by James Anderson at second slip, he exuded confidence and kept England's bowlers at bay.
The 24-year-old outdid his unbeaten 206 last week with a splendid century on a trick pitch where his far more illustrious team-mates came a cropper.
Pujara found himself at the crease very early after Gautam Gambhir was trapped lbw by Anderson's second ball. He saw off the new ball with meticulous assurance and fetched his first boundary by carving Monty Panesar through covers in the seventh over. Stuart Broad was belted for a couple of boundaries in an over - an upper-cut over the slip cordon and a splendid flick to deep square leg. Pujara was purring, as is his wont.
His footwork against the spinner was decisive – this was the hallmark of his unbeaten 206 in Ahmedebad - and Pujara was equally adept on the front foot. While Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni bit the dust one after another, Pujara took up the baton and exhibited exemplary patience and finesse. Tellingly, he pinched singles and doubles with effortless ease and waited for the loose balls, which were duly dispatched to the boundary all around the ground.
This innings was a demonstration of his range as a batsman as he cut, drove, sweep, punched and flicked with aplomb. He pulled Anderson for a boundary to rack up his third Test hundred in six innings and his mode of celebration was as endearing as his innings. No howling or lofty gestures, just a warm smile and a peck on Indian badge. That’s just how Pujara is.
Here is a youngster with an old warm charm about his batting, to go with an imperishable quality attached to it. He's unhurried yet sublime. Geoff Boycott, not one to throw about praise, was right on the money when he proclaimed, "India have unearthed a gem."
Knowing Pujaras penchant for big scores, England could be toiling in the field for a while longer come Saturday.