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Cheteshwar Pujara scored his 10th half-century in Test cricket © AFP

There was a time in the history of Cheteshwar Pujara’s international career when the batsman — touted to be not much different than Rahul Dravid at No. 3 for India in Test cricket — started discovering if there was any bowler in him. After all, Murali Vijay could bowl, so did Rohit Sharma. There was no KL Rahul back then on the scene, but the competition was already so intense enough that Pujara started feeling maybe he could be the one who loses out in the race among those cricketers who can play multiple roles for their sides. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs New Zealand, 2nd Test At Kolkata

Pujara’s attempt to start developing himself as a spinner was as mortifying as India’s overseas performances during those years. India went from South Africa to New Zealand to England and then Australia and the right-hander kept frittering away from the core talent that he has: being the grinder. There are hardly a few batsmen in the international circuit who can be as dominating as Pujara can be, and if his start in the second innings of the Kanpur Test against New Zealand can be recalled, it can be asseverated that the right-hander can be the aggressor as well. But before all that, the Indian team management should be praised for having allowed Pujara to play his natural game, discover himself as an opener in Sri Lanka and finally getting back to his favourite slot of No. 3 in the Test side right from the beginning of the big home season.

But then, there was the West Indies tour as well, where Pujara did look in double minds. At North Sound, he scored 16 off 69 balls. In the next innings at Kingston, Pujara got even worse, 159 deliveries consumed for mere 46 runs. It looked like Pujara was getting stuck again, unsure of his talent and capabilities of scoring at a faster rate than he did in those two innings. However, Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble decided to step in and let Pujara know what was needed from him.

Coming back to the start which Pujara made in his second innings at Kanpur, he struck three boundaries first up. Never ever can one recall him doing that? New Zealand were stunned, as of all batsmen, it was Pujara who was being the aggressor. Kohli and Kumble would have been happy seeing their talk making an effect. ALSO READ: Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane lone bright spots on New Zealand-dominated day

Two half-centuries in the Kanpur Test made Pujara looked in red-hot form, even though he had missed out on two centuries, if it can be understood this way. India had lot of time to bat on, but Pujara failed to convert them into big scores, just exactly like he did on the first day of the second Test at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. On Day One of the Kolkata Test, Pujara fell 13 runs short of his century which he thoroughly deserved. Not because he scored that many runs and went close to the landmark, but because he did everything possible to ensure that he set up himself well enough to get there.

There may be a few eyebrows raised at Pujara for having consumed as many as 219 deliveries for his 87 against New Zealand at Kanpur, but it will be grossly unfair to comment that Pujara went back to being what and how he was. Instead, it will make sense to take this Pujara innings as one of the most matured knocks that he has played so far in his career, not because India had lost too many wickets and were in deep trouble, but because this was the biggest challenge their batsmen have faced in the recent times and only Pujara, along with Ajinkya Rahane cleared it.

New Zealand may be languishing at the seventh spot in the ICC Test Rankings, but there is no denying of the fact that they have a rich pool of quality fast as well as seam bowlers. Tim Southee has been their best bet in India on last couple of tours, but so far, he has not been missed, especially at Kolkata on the first day when the ball was moving around dangerously, and even shooting off the pitch and bouncing over the batsmen on a few occasion.

The Kiwis truly had the Indians on the backfoot, and India needed someone not only to stop the flurry of wickets but also, lead the reply. Perhaps, there might not have been any better than Pujara, who combined with another fine Indian batsman, Ajinkya Rahane to defy the Kiwis. Pujara and Rahane added as many as 141 runs for the fourth wicket, which means, more than half of what the rest of the Indian batsmen managed on the first day of the second Test. India ended the day at 239 for 7, which means, if Pujara and Rahane’s contribution is taken away, the hosts do not have any ground to stand at.

It was just not about the run-scoring and dominating New Zealand throughout the post-lunch session; a lot of it is also about the way they approached their innings. Pujara, in particular, was at his best against the ball that was nipping around, beating the edges of the bat and sometimes holding up the line to come in dangerously. On one occasion, Pujara left alone a delivery which passed right over his bails, angled into him. But it was not a risky leave, Pujara knew where his wickets were, and he kept watching the ball till the end.

Getting out caught at extra cover was not the way Pujara would have liked being dismissed. His innings was of high quality, and to have such a poor end to it was certainly a shame. But, having come in to bat with the team being placed at a precarious position, and leading it to a strong revival, Pujara had done his bit. Maybe Indian total would have looked a lot better than it did at the end of the day if some of the other batsmen chipped in. The others will have the pressure of non-performance but not Pujara, whose three consecutive centuries have ignited the question: is this when Cheteshwar Pujara starts living up to expectations?

(Devarchit Varma is senior writer with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)