Kolkata: A resolute Cheteshwhar Pujara pulled India out of the rut in the company of Ajinkya Rahane as the hosts meandered to 136/3 at tea on Day One of the second cricket Test against New Zealand at the Eden Gardens here on Friday.
Pujara, in the midst of a storm over his slow strike rate, gave an exhibition of classy batsmanship to complete his 10th half-century in 37 Test matches.
The 28-year-old willower was unconquered (64; 189 balls, 13×4), alongside Rahane (47; 92 balls, 6×4) with the duo putting on 90 runs for an unfinished fourth-wicket stand that rescued India from the pre-lunch hiccups when they were 46/3 at one stage.
Pujara played in his typical gritty manner, but was also ruthless on the loose balls as the wicket eased out under the afternoon sun and gave little or no purchase to the New Zealand bowlers.
He reached his half-century by steering Wagner to the fence past backward point, the landmark coming off 146 balls after a 185-minute stay. But 44 of those runs came courtesy 11 boundaries.
Rahane also looked solid and cautiously aggressive as the New Zealand bowlers failed to get any success in the second session, after dominating the first.
In the morning, India struggled to reach 57/3 at lunch with the New Zealand bowlers seizing the initiative on a lively and grassy track that gave their pacers, particularly Matt Henry, carry from the wicket, and they repeatedly went tantalisingly close to finding the batsmen’s outside edge. Both Henry and Trent Boult bowled to a plan, maintaining a line on or just outside the off-stump.
India began on a wrong note after winning the toss, losing openers Shikhar Dhawan (1) and Murali Vijay (9) by the first drinks interval.
Skipper Virat Kohli (9) also failed to break his Eden Gardens jinx in the longest format of the game.
The dashing batsman chased a ball wide outside the off stump and finished in the hands of Tom Latham at gully. It was a brilliant catch as Latham virtually plucked the leather from thin air.
Kohli has now totalled 38 runs in four Test innings at the Eden, at a niggardly average of 9.50.
New Zealand got a huge jolt before the match as their skipper and batting mainstay Kane Williamson was ruled out due to indisposition with Ross Taylor becoming the stand-in captain.
India made two changes from the team that played the first Test at Kanpur. Shikhar Dhawan replaced the injured Lokesh Rahul, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar made it to the final XI in place of Umesh Yadav.
The visitors went with three changes. Henry Nicholls, Henry and Jeetan Patel are part of the team in place of Williamson, Mark Craig and Ish Sodhi.