Cheteshwar Pujara made his Test debut at the Chinnaswamy Stadium against Australia in October 2010. He batted at No. 5 in the first innings, got off the mark with a drive to the cover boundary off Mitchell Johnson, and was lbw next ball to one that kept low. In the second innings, with India 17 for 1 chasing 207, MS Dhoni promoted Pujara up to No. 3. He made an 89-ball 72 and India coasted home. "He is kind of a stroke-player," MS Dhoni said, when asked about the promotion. "He will play his shots if you bowl in his area."
What stood out most in Pujara's innings was his footwork against the spinners, his ability to get down the track quickly and hit fearlessly against the turn. He did that repeatedly to Nathan Hauritz, drilling his offbreaks through mid-off and extra cover.
The ability against spin has steered India through other potentially tricky situations since then - 52 and 82 not out in a six-wicket win over Australia on a wearing Ferozshah Kotla pitch in 2013, an unbeaten 145 at the SSC this August, when he began cautiously on a seaming track before getting into gear with three successive fours off Tharindu Kaushal, and most recently in Mohali, where he made 31 and 77 in a low-scoring Test dominated by spin.
Perhaps reluctant to reveal too much with three Tests of the series still to play, Pujara was cagey when asked about his methods on turning tracks, two days before the Bangalore Test. "For me it's the experience - having played lots of domestic cricket and scored big runs on domestic cricket has helped me know the pitches," he said. "I know my game plan and what are the things I need to do to tackle spin bowling. Obviously, I don't want to discuss too much about the technical part of it, but at the moment I would say mainly it's just the experience.
Pressed further, he divulged only a couple more droplets of information. "I think it's a mix of everything," he said. "Looking at the last Test match [in Mohali], my footwork was really good. I think the judgment of length and spin are both required. In the last match, a few balls were coming in so it was important to know which balls might come in and which line you could leave the ball on and which line you should play."
Back at the Chinnaswamy for only the second time since his debut, Pujara's career has completed a circle of sorts: first, he seemed to make the No. 3 slot his own after Rahul Dravid's retirement; then he lost form and lost his place in the side; he came back in that SSC Test, as an opener, and is now back at No. 3.
"There was never doubt that I wouldn't come back to international cricket [after being dropped] because the start that I had was good." Pujara said, when asked about his time out of the side. "I had the confidence. I was back to form. All cricketers will have that phase when they are not performing as well as they should. But once you start believing in yourself, start working harder on your game and start scoring runs in any game - it can be domestic or even club - then you gain the confidence that you can do well."
Since his return, plenty of experts, on air and in print, have noticed a widening of Pujara's stance, and analysed the pros and cons of a wider stance. Asked about it, Pujara made a startling revelation: he had in fact narrowed his stance ahead of the Sri Lanka tour.
"For me, I have the measurement of what kind of stance I have - this distance between my legs," he said. "So before I had a little wider stance but now I have changed it to slightly shorter. Obviously every stance has its advantages and disadvantages - of players' comfort and the kind of technique they have. So each and every individual is different.
"The most important thing about the stance is comfort. I discussed about it with my father and Rahul [Dravid, now the India A coach] bhai before the Sri Lanka series and then I came down to conclusion of what I wanted and it has helped me."