Hyderabad: Cheteshwar Pujara gave India hope for the future with a maiden century on Thursday that took the hosts to 307-5 in the first test against New Zealand.
The 24-year-old Pujara, one of two replacements for retired stalwarts Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, was unbeaten on 119 at stumps on the first day. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (29) was the other undefeated batsman as India looked to take full advantage after electing to bat in good conditions.
Entering at No 3, Pujara shared a 125-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Virat Kohli (58). Pujara, who played the last of his three previous tests in January 2011, struck one six and 15 fours.
"I'm really happy with this one (100) but I don't think I can replace Rahul Dravid at No. 3 because he has scored over 10,000 runs in test cricket," Pujara said.
Pujara was cautious early on but dominated the bowling in the final session of play. He was on 54 off 124 balls at tea but took only 45 more deliveries to reach 100, including a huge six over mid-wicket off part-time spinner Kane Williamson. He got to his half-century with a four through point off left-arm seamer James Franklin and to his century with a nudge towards long-leg off the same bowler.
"I was slow early on today because the ball was not coming on to the bat before lunch," Pujara said. "I generally bat aggressively and it is a misconception that I am suitable only for test cricket."
Kohli, already established in the test side, scored a neat fourth half-century in nine tests with eight fours off 107 balls. He was dropped on 46 by Ross Taylor at slip off the bowling of spinner Jeetan Patel before being caught in the slips by Martin Guptill off pace bowler Chris Martin.
But while Pujara and Kohli impressed, Suresh Raina failed to capitalize on a chance to establish himself in tests. The left-hander, who is a regular in the limited overs sides, edged a ball down the leg side from Patel that was taken smartly by wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk.
Earlier, India lost openers Virender Sehwag (47) and Gautam Gambhir (22) in the first session while Tendulkar (19) was bowled by Trent Boult (2-63) in the second session after a patchy 62-ball knock — his first in international cricket since he became a Member of Parliament.
Sehwag, who struck nine fours off 41 balls, edged a delivery from pace bowler Doug Bracewell to Guptill at second slip.
Sehwag survived two close calls earlier in his innings. On 21, Daniel Flynn ran backwards towards square-leg in a failed attempt to catch a miscued pull by Sehwag off Martin. On 33, wicketkeeper Van Wyk and Taylor failed to react and let through an edged four off Bracewell.
Sehwag hit Martin for two consecutive fours through the off side on the fifth and sixth deliveries of the over and then smashed two more off the fourth and fifth deliveries of the next over from Bracewell.
Gambhir was the first man out when he edged a delivery from Boult to Van Wyk.
"The conditions were testing but our team feels the match is still well balanced and we're looking for a couple of early wickets tomorrow," Boult said. "The plan was to put pressure on the younger players after the first three wickets, but we might have missed out a touch there."
India is playing its first test since the retirements of Dravid and Laxman, who were batting mainstays for 16 years.
The second test will be played in Bangalore, starting 31 August. The test series will be followed by two Twenty20 games.
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