Pujara, who has been pilloried of late for his ultra-defensive approach and castigated for not showing enough “intent”, smashed 16 boundaries in his 91 not out off 180 balls on the third day.
With this knock, he overshadowed the two megastars in skipper Virat Kohli and the supremely-talented Rohit Sharma. It’s a rarity but Friday was one of those days when the cricketing gods sided with Pujara.
Pujara has already done enough to give his career a new lease of life.
It’s Stumps on Day 3 of the 3⃣rd #ENGvIND Test at Headingley! A solid & gritty batting display by #TeamIndia to e… https://t.co/tN7nDRiUCS
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1630085711000
With two days left in the game, England remain favourites despite the pitch being good for batting as India still need 139 runs to avoid innings defeat, after the hosts scored 432 in their first innings to gain a mammoth 354-run lead.
As it happened | Scorecard
If Rohit’s (59 off 156 balls) near-impregnable defence during the first hour in all games has been a revelation in this series, Pujara’s array of attacking stokes will certainly leave his critics and fans amazed.
5️⃣0️⃣A solid half-century from @ImRo45, his 14th in Test cricket. 👏🏾 👏🏾https://t.co/FChN8SV3VR #TeamIndia… https://t.co/u6hHr7OtuX
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1630073562000
In fact, during the pair’s 82-run stand after KL Rahul‘s dismissal at the stroke of lunch, it was Pujara who looked the more aggressive of two with strokes, which helped Rohit play as per his own strategy.
It did help that the normally accurate James Anderson (19-8-51-0) fed him with freebies on his pads to give him a head start but very rarely would one find the man from Saurashtra playing a pull shot off Ollie Robinson (18-4-40-1) to complete a half-century, which was a big statement for his detractors.
A generous applause from his skipper Kohli (45 batting off 94 balls) was an indication what Pujara’s return to form meant for the team in general.
The typical Pujara square cut, which had gone extinct, was brought out of the closet and there was also the cover drive that can enhance the confidence of any player.
A steady fifty from Cheteshwar Pujara 🙌#WTC23 | #ENGvIND | https://t.co/GMfWIFf79e https://t.co/M7dfUb3zBv
— ICC (@ICC) 1630077808000
The best part was Pujara’s “intent” of running the singles and doubles to keep the scoreboard moving.
Stumps in Leeds 🏏An engrossing day of play comes to an end.#WTC23 | #ENGvIND | https://t.co/iuMSsSlSo8 https://t.co/juD7w3QcP4
— ICC (@ICC) 1630085205000
It seemed that there was a lot of pent-up anger in him about always being the “fall guy” whose place is questioned in the side despite the fact that others also go through poor run of form.
This innings will not only shut the critics but also raise his confidence level which is so important for this Indian batting line-up.
An innings of this quality against a good England seam bowling line-up on a day when the red Dukes swung more would certainly be among one of his top knocks.
Rahul Dravid’s 148 on a first day track at Headingley in 2002 remains immortal but Pujara has done enough already for his innings to be discussed in times to come. It was a classic example of how one can change his mindset when pushed back to the wall.
His partnership of 99 with skipper Kohli is raising visions that India might not give up without a proper fight in the next two days.
There were those crushing cover drives that raced to the boundary off Kohli’s blade and he ensured that his bat remained closed to his body while dealing with those bowled in the corridor of uncertainty.
Once the light deteriorated, Kohli, for good measure, pulled opposite number Joe Root‘s friendly off-break to the boundary. Pujara wasn’t ready to be left behind as he got a four with a similar shot off Moeen Ali.
Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant’s role in the next two days will be equally important if India comes anywhere near to saving this Test match.
However, once again Rohit’s contribution can’t be seen in isolation as he and Rahul played that initial two hours in the morning when Robinson and Anderson was making the ball talk.
A statistic revealed that the ball swung at 1.9 degrees, which is the most in last three days with the second day, when the Indians bowled, being the worst with less than a degree.
There was movement off the pitch but it did help the Indians that they played so close to their bodies that it was a case of missing the outside edge of the bat.
If India can manage 500 and a tricky 150-odd target in the fourth innings might inject doubts in English minds.