Cheteshwar Pujara hit an unbeaten hundred on the opening day of the Duleep Trophy final against India Red at Noida to Greater Noida to finish on a strong 362 for 3. Pujara ended the day unbeaten on 111, after skipper Gautam Gambhir narrowly missed out on one himself getting clean bowled for 94. Earlier, Gambhir featured in a 144-run stand with Mayank Agarwal, the duo's fourth consecutive century stand, as Gambhir himself brought up his fourth fifty in a row. Red clearly struggled with the ball, as first the pacers Pradeep Sangwan and Nathu Singh, and later the spinners, Amit Mishra and Kuldeep Yadav, struggled for control
Blue were ahead right from the time they won the toss as Gambhir and Agarwal continued with their great work. The openers did have slices of luck which went their way though. Agarwal opened his boundary count with a streaky drive that just went past gully. Gambhir then miscued one in the air off Mishra, which fell perilously close to mid-on. With his first ball, Yadav got Gambhir to offer a chance to silly point, but a low catch was put down. Kuldeep later also beat a charging Agarwal, but wicket-keeper Ankush Bains could not gather the ball cleanly to complete the stumping.
Apart from the few hiccups, Gambhir and Agarwal enjoyed their merry run. The bowlers helped them as Sangwan and Singh failed to get any sort of swing and seam, and could not keep things tight as well. The spinners, Mishra and Yadav, on the other hand, were successful in extracting some uneven bounce to trouble the batsmen, but this was followed by too many freebies as the pressure was released. The performance of Mishra, in particular, was most disappointing, since he has reasonable experience of international cricket, yet could not make an impression. With Mishra struggling Yadav too lost his way.
The opening stand of 144 was broken in the most unexpected manner as Agarwal, on 57, chipped Stuart Binny to short extra cover. All that did though was bring Pujara to the crease, who was to deliver further agony to Red. As always, Pujara began slowly, but once he got his eye in, the runs started flowing. He got off the mark, with a wonderfully timed drive down the ground for four. A cover drive off Mishra brought him his 10000th run in first class cricket. Later, he pulled the same bowler to bring up his fifty. The accumulation continued as he got to his hundred with an extra cover drive off Binny.
Gambhir too was looking good for a hundred, but he fell just shot, looking over anxious to get to the three-figure mark and losing his wicket in the process. With all the hard work done, Pujara and Dinesh Karthik enjoyed themselves against a tired and completely deflated bowling attack. 151 runs came in the last session, with Rohit Sharma being the only batsman to fall. Pujara and Karthik dazzled adding 120 in 23.3 overs, scoring as if this was a 50-over clash. Sharma had also got his eye in, and eased his way to 30, before giving his wicket away to a slog, nothing new for India fans. The day though clearly belonged to Blue, and opposition skipper Yuvraj Singh must be seeing red.
--By A Cricket Analyst