“The Indian batsmen have had a substandard tour and with the series lost, they only have the final Test to play for pride and save their image of the No. 1 team, that surely is at stake right now. Amidst all this, Pujara dug deep in his innings and made for all the misery he had had in the last two games”.
They say that “birthdays are a new start, a fresh beginning, a time to pursue new endeavours with new goals.” India’s No. 3 batsman, Cheteshwara Pujara just a day before his 30th birthday rejuvenated his natural game and did what he is best at, scored runs at his own pace. Once Pujara touched his pace, he could bore you to hell and at the same time, he could leave you in awe of his determination and intent. His blockathon reminisced the resolution showed by South African batsmen at the Ferozeshah Kotla back in 2015. The only difference lied in the pitches, while the Delhi track had turn, this one at the Wanderers had movement.
Hardik Pandya’s explosive 93 off 95 in the opening Test at Cape Town had established the fact that defensive approach would be of no help for the Indian batters on fast and bouncy South African tracks and they will have to go the aggressive way to score freely against a world-class Proteas bowling attack. Moreover, the Indian Captain Virat Kohli has always endorsed the brand of aggressive and flamboyant cricket and off late, he has pushed his teammates to follow that as well.
“You can’t be in a zone of not having intent and see off 35-40 overs. You need to find the perfect balance to do well in South Africa especially where there is more bounce. You can’t just stand there and take whatever is coming your way and not have intent at all. You might get out, but it’s important to keep coming at the bowler and making them feel, ‘If you make an error I am going to score.’ So I think that message needs to go pretty strongly and you need to do that as a batting unit, collectively,” Kohli had said after the Cape Town Test.
Whenever India have lost their openers early in Test cricket, the pressure never crossed the limits because the duo of Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were still in line. However, in the first two Tests, Rahane was not in the playing XI and without him, it was just Pujara with a shoulder full of responsibility. On top of that, the skipper’s strong statement was certainly too much for him to handle. One must understand that unlike most of the current Indian Test players, Pujara does not have the luxury of playing limited-overs cricket so all that he has is Test cricket and it must for him to deliver there in order to remain in the Indian side.
Slow but steady
Getting off the first ball is not his style. Neither is running quickly between the wickets is his way. Pujara has been all about clear head, scoring against the time and not bothering about the maiden overs one bit. In India’s first innings in Durban, Pujara fell short of the crease before a direct hit from Lungi Ngidi. Pujara laid with his head buried to the ground for some time before he got up to walk off the field. What followed in the next innings was absolutely dreadful. As soon as Parthiv Patel shouted for a single, without looking at the fielder with the ball (AB de Villiers), Pujara ran and once again fell short of the crease.
He had not only fallen short of the crease but also the captain’s expectations. That moment was the testimony to the fact that Kohli’s unnecessary bid for aggression had cost him India’s most dependable batsman, Pujara.
Australia’s legendary cricketer Adam Gilchrist once had even suggested that Kohli should not force his nature on his teammates because not everyone in the side is like him. He had added that if a player, not being ditto like Kohli, will try and pretend to be like him, he surely will eventually fail and maybe, forget how to play the game of cricket. Pujara’s situation was not this bad but the pressure that took a toll on his form was not hidden.
However, it is not known if Kohli and Pujara would have talked it out about the whole intent and aggression thing but Pujara was back to his usual self in the dead rubber Test at Johannesburg. Kohli won the toss, opted to bat and within nine overs, India had lost their openers, leaving Pujara and skipper out in the middle. There seemed no pressure on Pujara at all.
Remember, Rahul Dravid’s knock in Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 2008? Dravid played 39 dot balls before he went off the mark. He then raised his bat, cheekily, acknowledging the loud cheers from the crowd at SCG and eventually he would get dismissed on 53 off 160 balls. The Indian batsman, who filled his shoes in the same No. 3 spot, Pujara saw him in a similar position on Wednesday. Going a few steps ahead of the legend, Pujara went off the mark on the 54th delivery he had faced.
Kohli even had asked him to raise his bat but the soon to turn 30-year-old just slightly giggled it out. In the 39th over, Virat defended a ball, wanted a quick single to only get a no signal from Pujara. Virat returned to his crease and gave a thumbs up to Pujara. That was a very significant moment of understanding and accepting limitations of others. That testified that Kohli finally had understood that it was best to leave Pujara alone with his natural game. There is a reason why Pujara is not in the limited-overs squad as he is not as fragile as the others.
From there on, the fire and ice combination ensured India had a respectful amount of runs before the bowlers got on their job. On a pitch described by Pujara as “one of the toughest” pitches he had batted on, the duo added 84 runs for the third wicket, the highest in the series for India before India were bowled out for 187.
“The total we have (187) I think it is as good as scoring 300 on any wicket. As we saw, we got a wicket, and if we bowl well, I think we’ll get them out. I would say it was a good day for us. So if we bowl well I think we have a very good chance, and I am very hopeful that we have enough runs on this wicket,” Pujara said after stumps on Day 1.
The Indian batsmen have had a substandard tour and with the series lost, they only have the final Test to play for pride and save their image of the No. 1 team, that surely is at stake right now. Amidst all this, Pujara dug deep in his innings and made for all the misery he had had in the last two games. He withheld himself from going for boundaries in the first two sessions of the opening day’s play, where he left everything that was pitched to outside off. The right-handed batsman spent 261 minutes at the crease before he was dismissed exactly for 50 off 179 balls.