Ahmedabad: A big-innings player and a long-innings specialist took India's cause immeasurably forward on the second day of the first Test against England at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad. Yuvraj Singh's emotional comeback fell short of ultimate glory when he holed out for 74, but nothing could stop Cheteshwar Pujara from stitching together an eight-hour Test master class to reach an unbeaten 206 that powered India to 521/8 declared on Friday (November 16). In the 18 overs that India sent down, England stuttered to 41 for 3, opening up the distinct possibility of an early finish to the Test.
It wasn't so much the fact that England are still 418 behind with seven wickets in hand at the end of just the second day of the Test that was noteworthy. The sheer deer-in-the-headlights approach to playing spin on a surface that was still slow did not bode well for Alastair Cook's men.
Nick Compton was the first to go, comprehensively bowled through the gate by R Ashwin. Although he started ordinarily, having been handed the ball to bowl the first over of the innings, Ashwin quickly settled down, and with Compton's scalp became the fastest Indian to 50 Test wickets, beating Anil Kumble's mark of 10 Tests by one.
If Ashwin nudged the door open, England's management helped things along, sending James Anderson out as nightwatchman. Pushing at Pragyan Ojha with hard hands, Anderson was well caught by Gautam Gambhir diving to his right at short-leg. Eventually, Jonathan Trott made his way out to the middle, but was far from comfortable and it took only four balls for Ashwin to put him out of his misery. A bit of drift was all it took for Trott to go at the ball with bat well in front of pad, popping a catch to the man under the helmet. Kevin Pietersen and Cook (22*) ensured that no further damage was done, but England were already looking down the barrel.
Beginning the day on 98, Pujara was patient in getting to three figures, courtesy a tuck through square-leg off Stuart Broad. Yuvraj, lucky to survive a close lbw shout against Graeme Swann in the first over of the day, switched gears and did what he knows best, attacking the spinners and quick men. While the sweep was not Yuvraj's most convincing stroke, the manner in which he came down the pitch to loft straight back down the pitch – once each for maximum against Swann and Samit Patel – was a sure sign that he was back to his best.
If Yuvraj was more exciting simply because of the power of his strokeplay and the chance he gave the bowlers when attacking, Pujara was rock solid. At no stage in his stay at the crease was Pujara vulnerable, his patience a throwback to times when batsmen didn't play One-Day Internationals and had not heard of Twenty20.
Pujara's assessment of the conditions was perfect, and he played the pacemen late, deadbatting an already soft ball into gaps for completely painless ones and twos. When Swann threatened to get on top of the batsmen, Pujara and Yuvraj attacked in unison, taking him for 15 in an over. Sensing a long tour ahead, Swann was removed from the attack having bowled eight overs on the day, and it was smooth sailing for India from there on.
The only blip came when Yuvraj (74) sensed a freebie as Patel sent down a middling full-toss. The baseball-style swing wasn't the cleanest contact, and when Swann settled under the catch, the 130-run sixth-wicket partnership was broken.
Pujara plugged away, undeterred, and even as wickets fell at the other end, he went in to tea on 196, having kept his scoring rate at a tempo so steady a pacemaker would've been proud of. England tried to build some pressure when Pujara was on 199, packing the off-side field, leaving a lone man at mid-on patrolling the leg side. Eyes on the ball, ears blocking out the roar of the crowd, Pujara threaded the needle through gully to get to his first Test double-century in just his sixth Test match.
In first-class cricket, Pujara has proved to have a voracious appetite once past 100, his scores reading 145, 177, 139, 100, 109, 148*, 151*, 302* (v Orissa, 2008, Rajkot), 189, 176, 112*, 204*, 110 and 208*. In Tests, his first century was 159 versus New Zealand, and if anyone had doubts, 206 chanceless runs (513 minutes, 389 balls, 21 fours) against England settled them once and for all.