“Pujara has now given India a chance to mend their mistakes in this match”
It was yet another overseas Test match and yet another batting collapse as the Indian top-order departed one after another, in quick succession, on the very first day of the first match of their tour Down Under.
However, the Indian batsmen hardly had any excuse this time for the dismal batting performance they came up with.
Losing the toss has always been one of India’s greatest excuses whenever they have lost a Test match in overseas conditions. However, when the coin came down at the toss, today at Adelaide, India finally found luck on their side.
India had won the toss and one of their reasons to complain and whine about, after every poor batting performance, had now been eliminated. Skipper Virat Kohli rightly decided to bat first on a track that looked like an absolute batting beauty. The supreme batting conditions that Adelaide presented in front of them had taken away any other excuses remaining in case of another collapse as well.
But the same old story repeated once again. India found themselves tottering at 41/4 and then at 86/5 as all of KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma gifted their wickets away to the Australian bowlers.
Christmas is still far away, 19 days to be precise, but the Indian batsmen seemed desperate to present their Australian counterparts with early gifts in the form of their valuable wickets.
Yes, the ball was swinging and that’s what one can expect it to do in the morning session. But it wasn’t anything that was making the life of the batsmen difficult. Both openers, Rahul and Vijay, departed trying to play outrageous drives to deliveries pitched full and just outside the off stump. The result was their dismissal as both of them edged it to the slips.
If their shots could be called outrageous, it is probably difficult to find the proper adjective to describe Kohli’s expansive drive to a delivery pitched probably on the seventh stump line outside off. The result was similar as he was caught in the slips once again. The Australians were delighted as they had got the big wicket.
There’s a saying that ‘If you want to kill the snake, aim for its head’. The Australians had just done that. Kohli’s deputy Rahane followed soon, in a similar manner, after nudging around for a while.
India were now reduced to 41 for 4!
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Walks in Rohit Sharma whose inclusion in the Test squad was highly debated.
He had a point to prove and he started doing that from ball one. He played some delightful drives, pulled one into the stands at deep square leg and also played an outrageous drive that saw the ball sailing over the cover boundary for a six. He even charged down to Nathan Lyon to hit him for a six over mid-wicket. It was just mesmerizing to watch Rohit Sharma in the flow.
But then came the ugly slog that saw him walking back to the pavilion. He tried to dispatch Lyon in a similar manner in the very next delivery but was caught at deep square leg as the massive turn tricked him. A knock 37 runs off 61 deliveries laced with two fours and three sixes were all he could manage. It was wonderful while it lasted but not enough to dig India out of trouble.
India were now tottering at 86 for 5.
The end was near. But amidst all this chaos, anyone had hardly noticed that Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s last glimmer of hope, was still batting out there. He hadn’t had a year that he would like to remember till now. People had criticised him continuously for his lack of intent, failure in South Africa and even was dropped in India’s Test against England at Edgbaston. He did score a century on comeback later in the same series but he didn’t have anything else to show apart from that.
If he ever wanted to make a statement, it was the right time for that. And he did so in such a manner that he redefined the meaning of ‘intent’, something he had always been criticized for lacking.
Pujara watched all the devastation from the other end as his batting partners kept departing one after another. He kept doing what he does best in those circumstances and blocked whatever delivery came his way. He had already played out over 100 deliveries and 20 odd runs were all he had to his name. This was a situation in which anyone could hardly ask him to accelerate.
At the other end, he found the company of Rishabh Pant, who lived dangerously at the crease while his innings lasted. He also departed after a brief partnership of 41 runs. The delivery he got from Lyon would have been unplayable for even the best batsmen in the world. Pujara was left searching for a partner once again. And he found that in the able company of Ravichandran Ashwin.
The Tamil Nadu offie started off tentatively but Pujara’s assured presence at the other end calmed his nerves down. Together, they started rebuilding the innings and started getting India back into the match slowly.
The assurance Pujara got from Ashwin helped him to open up a bit as well. He had now started using his feet to Lyon and was looking for runs as well. The pitch had eased out and he was now not afraid to cut and drive the pacers as well.
He reached his fifty soon and his strike rate that was ranging in the 20s had now gone up to over 30. He had started showing a little aggression but not that much that it would end up hurting India. It’s what we call controlled and measured aggression. He continued playing in that manner and Ashwin was replicating his act well too.
The partnership was worth 62 runs now and had started to look like a match-defining one. But Pat Cummins came up with a brilliant delivery pitched on off and middle that squared Ashwin up completely. The ball took his outside edge and went straight to the hands of Tim Paine behind the wickets.
India’s tail had started now as none of the remaining players in Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah were known for their batting abilities. It was time for Pujara to take charge. And he did so.
He started going after everything short and even on a quarter length which saw his strike rate jump up to the 40s now. The intent was clear now. It was not about the aggression. In fact, it was about how he had dealt with every situation till now. His only intention was to take India to a safe total. Taking the attack on to the hosts was never in his mind. He showed maturity and made sure that he batted with a clear head, forgetting all the criticisms surrounding him.
Even Ishant Sharma had departed now. India were now 210 for 8 and Pujara was batting on 88 of 222 deliveries. With wickets tumbling, he decided to use the long handle and took the help of a six and a four of Josh Hazlewood’s bowling to move on to 99. Mohammad Shami had shown no intentions of hanging around as he had slapped a widish full toss from Starc bowled at 148 kph straight to the backward point boundary. Pujara was now on the lookout for quick runs as well.
But he brought up his deserved century with a wristy flick off Starc’s bowling first. He received a standing ovation from the crowd as he ran the double that got him past the three-figure mark. It was truly a commendable effort. He took adversity in his stride like a champion and helped India in sailing through the troubled period.
Pujara took 231 deliveries to reach his century, his last 50 runs came in 78 deliveries as compared to his first fifty in 153 deliveries. The acceleration he showed clearly stated that he can adapt to any situation once set at the crease. He didn’t stop there and went on to scored 22 more runs in the next 15 deliveries before he was sent back to the pavilion as a result of a superb piece of fielding by Pat Cummins.
On a day when he hardly committed any mistake and rarely gave the bowlers any chance to dominate him, that was probably the only way Australia could have got rid of him. His final score read 123 runs off 246 deliveries scored at an exact overall strike rate of 50.0. Nobody could complain about his scoring rate now and to be honest, it hardly mattered considering the kind of situation he got India out of. A total 250 for 9 at the end of the day, certainly seems more respectable than 86/5 at not even halfway into the day.
Pujara has now given India a chance to mend their mistakes in this match. He redefined the concept of intent set forward by the Indian skipper and team management and hopefully, his teammates can learn from that.