He could not have played a more crucial knock at the start of a series than he did against persistent Australia at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday. He could not have had a more calming presence in the middle than on the opening day of the first Test. Cheteshwar Pujara could not have picked up the gauntlet with greater certainty than in making 123 runs out of India score of 250 for nine.
Pujara settled down to creating an essay of a Test innings rather than a hurried passage that would remind those watching of other formats of the game. And he was hardly out of place while the others around him either played strokes that were imposed on them by sustained exposure to the shorter games or paid for setting out on fishing expeditions that were in evidence.
Indeed, he was remarkably unruffled by the madness he saw across the pitch. It was a tribute to his equanimity that, with each wicket that fell to a poor stroke or a great piece of fielding, he kept strengthening his resolve to take India to a better score. He embraced old-fashioned Test batsmanship to score his 16th century and the second in four innings against Australia.
Considering that Pujara's previous centuries against what is considered the world's toughest opposition were both double hundreds on Indian soil, the 123 that he made in Adelaide on Thursday will rate very high. The relentless intensity with which the Australian bowlers challenged the Indian batsmen demanded a mindset that only he, among the specialists, carried to the crease.
To his credit, he refused to let his mind dwell on teammates who play more white-ball cricket than him. Instead, he focused on the task on hand and went about doing that as well as he could, reading the track's pace and bounce admirably. He was certain in his methods against the three-pronged pace attack and Nathan Lyon's off-spin.
There was a clarity in his approach, dictated by the situation. And that was simplicity in execution. It can be said that these were the result of there being no cobwebs to hamper his thinking and his response to every delivery that he faced. It guided him from the moment he walked in to bat at the fall of the first wicket through the day.
For sure, he was not going to be driven by a desire to entertain the fans at the Adelaide Oval and viewers at home. On the contrary, the 30-year-old was consumed by an intense desire to ensure that the team would have a score to bowl with while not being bowled out inside the opening day of what is expected to be a very engaging series. The team will be delighted for his battling skills.
An acute awareness that he had to accelerate the pace of scoring and add more runs on the board saw him shift gears after Ashwin's departure. And, for only the second time in 65 Tests and 108 visits to the crease, he struck two sixes in an innings. The upper cut over point off Mitchell Starc in what turned out to be penultimate over of the day showed that he is adding layers to his batting.
There was a lot that he overcame besides the sustained attack by the home bowlers. The hot and humid conditions would have challenged the best in the business. He managed the hydration well — with some help from the support staff — but it was in shutting his mind off to the early mayhem at the other end that he did India a great turn.
Through the morning, nobody stayed long enough with him to stitch together a partnership that would curb Australia's surge. Even though Rohit Sharma, preferred ahead of Hanuma Vihari in the XI, scored a few quick runs in counterattack, it was not until the advent of R Ashwin that Pujara found an ally. Unsurprisingly, their 62-run stand for the seventh wicket was the best of the day.
His batting on Thursday was an engrossing lesson in the values that Test cricket demands of its exponents, patience being one of the biggest. It did not matter to him that he played so many dot-balls or that he had just seven fours in his 246-ball knock. He had set his mind on doing his best and he worked to achieve that — and quite productively at that.
It was only in an attempt to find the balance between adding to the tally and retaining strike that he risked losing his wicket. It was the second successive time in Tests against Australia that Pujara was run out, this time by the alacrity and accuracy of Pat Cummins at wide mid-on. Back in Dharamsala in March last year, he was out without scoring as India chased a win.
Now, with India seeking to make a positive start to the Test series Down Under, Pujara's composure has stood the team in good stead. He has shown his teammates the way and how much confidence and learning they take from watching him at the crease on Thursday may well determine how they fare in the rest of the series. As for Pujara himself, he appears more than willing to shoulder the burden and steer the team's ship to calmer territories.