Watch. Leave. Defend. Make 50. Defend more. Make 100. Attack.
This is the order in which Cheteshwar Pujara, fondly called as ‘Che‘, goes about his Test innings. A near-replica of one of India’s best Test cricketers, Rahul Dravid, the unperturbed and composed Saurashtrian walked out in the eighth over of the innings at Galle and compiled his 12th Test hundred. The final scorecard at the end of day 1 reveals Pujara remaining unbeaten on 144 off 247 balls at a strike rate of 58.3.
But ask a spectator at Galle and he would tell you that Pujara was quick, quicker than usual and POSITIVE. That last word is a character that the dour batsman has focused on inheriting into his batsmanship. The rise of Virat Kohli as skipper together with Ravi Shastri as coach, both of whom preferred an aggressive approach, had out Pujara’s career in the back foot at one stage. He was getting runs but they weren’t big, knocking doors kind of runs. They were 40s and 50s which barely mattered in the context of the game.
— Vikrant Gupta (@vikrantgupta73) July 26, 2017
When Kumble was made head coach, Pujara was once again dropped after a couple of rather bogged down innings’ in the Caribbean. The former leggie sat down with Pujara and conveyed clearly what is expected of him in the Test squad.
“One thing he mentioned was intent, and not the strike rate; I want to be very clear about this. He told me it was the intent I needed to change, not the strike rate. If I had a positive intent, the bowlers are under pressure, and they can’t bowl where they want to. That is something I worked on and it helped me”, Pujara reveals about his chat with Kumble.
The communication helped Pujara immensely. Previously, he was unsure what change was expected in his game by the management. Once it was all out in the open, there was an evident change in Pujara’s game. The no.3 knew a thing or two about grabbing games by the scruff of its neck. In 2015, at P Sara Oval in Sri Lanka in the series decider, Pujara had taken up the task of opening on a tough pitch and made a 145 to win the game and series for India.
The day 1 knock at Galle
Galle was no P Sara Oval. It was a batting beauty, one which batsmen hate getting dismissed on. When Pujara walked in after Mukund’s wicket in the eighth over, India were under a bit of pressure. Their opening partnerships had been suspect in overseas Tests since 2012, the only 100+ stand being the 283 Dhawan and Murali Vijay made against Bangladesh in 2015.
Nerves seemed to show when Pujara edged Pradeep through the cordon but little went wrong for Che since that. He was in his zone and looked in ominous touch against some haphazard bowling by the Lankans. Dilruwan Perera was all over the place and Pujara rightly took full toll on him, flicking and cutting him with ease.
— 100Rab (@BatwadaSaurabh) July 26, 2017
Between overs 17 and 37, Pujara went silent as Dhawan dug into the bowling with his ravishing blades. The southpaw raced to a fifth Test hundred as Pujara seemed very content to play second fiddle to his aggressive partner. The boundary rut was broken when he reached his half-century with a delicate shot off a harmless full toss from a wayward Lahiru Kumara. He followed it up with another boundary next ball, a typical flick off the meat of the bat.
Pujara yet again went missing till the 50th over as Dhawan moved into cruise mode. However, what was notable was Pujara’s positive intent even when not scoring boundaries. This was uncharacteristic. Pujara was known to let the odd half-volley get away. But today he was intent on scoring and kept the scoreboard ticking constantly.
Built up as a Herath vs India series, the Sri Lankan stand-in skipper had a lot of responsibility on his hands. However, much akin to 2015, India’s plan against the left-arm spinner was evident. Step out and negate the turn. A constant feature of Pujara’s hundred here was the manner in which he stepped out to Herath to disturb his rhythm.
Rangana herath not out on 92😂
— Virat Sharma (@ViratSharma03) July 26, 2017
More often than not Pujara was up to the pitch of the ball. A confused Herath would eventually offer a shorter delivery hoping to catch Pujara on the run, only to see the Indian rocking back to lace the ball through point. There was an ease in the manner in which Pujara dealt with the veteran Lankan spinner. In the 66th over, Pujara stepped out twice to Herath and creamed him down the ground.
A situation knock
His natural game is to bide time and go on the attack after the team is well ahead of the game. But the present day Pujara plays according to team situations. He is all against the concept of sticking to one’s natural game in Tests, be it attack or defend.
“When it comes to Test cricket, you have to play by the situation. There is no natural game”, Pujara had told as revealed by The Cricket Monthly.
Today at Galle, he knew that he couldn’t get bogged down in a batting beauty with Dhawan flowing smoothly at the other end. The positive intent was evident in every foot movement. Once Dhawan departed though, Pujara immediately switched his game plan. He knew that India needed to bat only once to win this game. He could not have thrown away a sound start. The strike rate dropped initially as Rahane settled down.
No great build-up or shoo-shaa before series, @cheteshwar1 goes and does what he knows best: score yet another Test century
— Cricketwallah (@cricketwallah) July 26, 2017
Once Rahane was set, Pujara once again took charge of the innings and raced past his 12th century in Test cricket. He was by no means going to gift his wicket away after the hundred and went about the task on making it a huge one.
Even as he walked off at the end of the day with 144 unbeaten runs to his name, Pujara would have known that India needs a double-hundred from him tomorrow. He wasn’t playing time like in his double hundred at Ranchi against the Aussies. He was toying with the opposition. This was a different Pujara. A different knock. One that would instill more confidence in his undeniable abilities from the management. After all, does India have a better Test batsman in their ranks?