Cheteshwar Pujara was in prime form © AFP
Cheteshwar Pujara was in prime form against South Africa © AFP

India have their noses firmly ahead at the end of Day Two of the first Test against South Africa at Mohali. Ravichandran Ashwin was the star for India with the ball, taking 5 for 51 and completing 150 Test wickets in just his 29th match — the fastest Indian to the landmark. However, all of Ashwin’s hard work would have been to no avail had it not been for Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara’s 86-run stand for the second wicket. That India ended the day with a 142-run lead is thanks largely to their partnership. Live Cricket Scorecard: India vs South Africa 2015, 1st Test at Mohali

Luckily for India, one of the protagonists of that alliance is still batting. Pujara, whose unbeaten 63 came off 100 balls, hit 6 fours and a six. Given the nature of the pitch, Pujara’s innings was even more special. This is not the first time Pujara has batted wonderfully on a tricky pitch; in only his last Test he scored an unbeaten 145, carrying his bat against Sri Lanka at Colombo in a Test India went on to win. On that occasion he was forced to open due to the injuries picked up by Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay. READ: Virat Kohli: Tracing the growth of a superstar

That innings ensured Pujara kept his spot in the playing XI, though he dropped down a slot to his preferred No. 3 position. He batted resolutely in the first innings, scoring a composed 31 off 66 balls before falling prey to part-timer Dean Elgar. He ended up being the third-highest run-scorer of the innings as India folded up for 201. With Ashwin and his fellow spinners bundling out South Africa for just 184, all eyes were on India’s batsmen.

Dhawan fell for his second duck of the match, which can mean an exclusion from the next Test at Bangalore. If that happens either one of KL Rahul or Rohit Sharma can make a comeback to the playing XI; but more on that later. What matters for India is that Pujara is back to scoring runs at No. 3 for India. READ: Ravindra Jadeja back with a bang in India vs South Africa 2015, 1st Test at Mohali

India have recently had some trouble with the No. 3 position in Tests. Rahul, Rohit, and Ajinkya Rahane have all batted there in recent times, though none of them with Pujara’s success. Rahane scored a century from No. 3 in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo, but he always seemed more comfortable lower down the order. With Pujara back in form and scoring runs, India’s No. 3 problem has been solved, while Rahane makes for a solid No. 5 as well.

Pujara has a long history of batting well on difficult pitches. His 72 off 89 on debut in Bangalore came in a tricky fourth-innings chase. Even better was his 82 off 92 balls at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, again in the fourth innings. And of course, there was his unbeaten 145 at Colombo. Pujara is unbeaten on 63 overnight. He has looked in complete control; resolute in defence and ruthless against anything loose. If he continues in a similar vein India could be well on their way to setting South Africa a 300-plus target. READ: India’s perfect execution against South Africa puts them in driver’s seat of 1st Test at Mohali

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)