We proved we weren't scared - Pujara
India's batsmen have not only surpassed expectations, they have flown in the face of suggestions that they might be scarred and scared after the battering in the ODIs. Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored his first overseas century to almost bat South Africa out of the Johannesburg Test, feels there is work is yet to be done, though.
"I think we have," Pujara said, when asked if India had answered the concerns around being scarred and sacred. "But I think it is still early and we need to do a lot. But it is a very good start for us considering the position we are in. So we just have to take confidence from it, and look to gain from whatever we have achieved in this match and carry forward from this."
That is typical Pujara, though. Always level-headed, always hungry for more runs in an understated way. Sixteen of his 25 first-class hundreds have been scores of 150 or more. "I always like to score big runs, and being a top-order batsman it's my responsibility," Pujara said. "When I score a hundred and I'm set, I should try and play longer and achieve big total for the team. So, whenever I am set I feel that for the team's purpose as well as my own achievement I should try to bat as long as possible."
Pujara was extremely cautious at the start of his innings, but once he got used to the conditions and the bowlers, he cut loose. "I was initially trying to look through the conditions as the ball was new and was doing a bit," he said. "I was being patient, and was waiting for the opportunity to accelerate. I knew the start was important, and I was batting well even in the first innings. So it was important to see through the new ball and then play my shots."
Pujara's celebration on reaching the hundred was different to his usual peaceful ones- a little more pumped up. This was his first century away from home. "There was a lot of talk about this tour, especially the Indian batsmen not doing well overseas," Pujara said, agreeing that this ton was extra special. "But I think everybody took the responsibility and did it as a unit. It was an important innings for me as well because I wanted to score runs in South Africa, considering the conditions here are a little difficult."
India ended the fourth day needing eight wickets, but South Africa are not a team to be written off. They are capable of batting a day out, or even scoring 320 runs. Pujara, though, was quietly confident about India's position because of the bounce on offer. "I think the wicket has variable bounce, and we have seen the cracks have been opening up," he said. "We are expecting that we will get more movement tomorrow from the ball that will hit the crack. Even while I was batting in the morning, I felt that the odd ball was going up and down.
"I think we are very happy with the two wickets we have got, and the conditions will be a little more difficult tomorrow. We have got enough runs on the board, and I think it will not be an issue for us. It's important for us to get a few wickets in the first session so that we can capitalise later on."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo