When it comes to celebrating milestones, Cheteshwar Pujara is nothing short of an oddball in the Indian dressing-room. With him, there are no wild gesticulations, no fist-pumps, no irate brandishing of the bat and certainly no mouthing of cuss-words. It’s always sedate, almost too sedate. A basic raising of the bat and helmet followed by a shy, even apologetic, smile. And then back to business.
Friday was different. Pujara finally showed that he was human after all. That, significant landmarks do matter to him too. When he drove Dale Steyn through the covers to bring up his sixth Test century, he didn’t just raise his bat, he even punched the air. There was even a little leap to boot. The Pujara smile seemed much more unabashed, satisfaction writ large.
This was the 25-year-old’s first century on foreign soil. That too against the best bowling attack in the world. But there was more to it. While he landed in South Africa with a Test average of 65.50, he was also on his second visit to a country, where he had scored only 31 runs in three innings the last time he was here.
He might have had a few doubters regarding his calibre. Having said that, the gargantuan number of runs and the five previous centuries had all come on home soil. And you really didn’t know what to expect from Pujara on this tour. The anxiety is sure to have been felt even by the Indian dressing-room and probably the youngster himself.
But with a knock of great poise, composure, Pujaraesque patience and a selection of attractive shots, India’s No.3 had overcome those suspicions. As he stood with his arms aloft, he knew and so did the rest of the cricket world that here stood a special batsman, one who wasn’t bogged down by conditions or standard of opposition.
In his element
Like always, Pujara was back in his element a few seconds or so after his uncharacteristic celebration. His insatiable hunger for runs had hardly been gratified. And by the end of Day Three he had cruised along to an unbeaten 135 and also taken India to 284/2 in their second innings. With Virat Kohli giving the centurion company on 77 not out, the visitors also ended the day in complete command of proceedings, ahead with a massive lead of 320, having polished off the South African tail earlier in the day.
Pujara had walked