Grit, resilient, Classic, Old school and a Masterclass and etc etc.. Words fall short to describe the 2 innings that Cheteshwar Pujara played in the 1st test at Adelaide Oval.
First test match of the series, India would have loved to win the toss and their wish came true. Virat Kohli won the toss and decided to bat on the fresh wicket. Adelaide Oval wicket has been known for its runs. Like the one where The Wall Rahul Dravid scored mammoth 233.
Test match cricket is played session by session. If you want to win a game of cricket in the test match format you have to win sessions. However, India went on to bat in the first session of the match where everyone was expecting some help for the fast bowlers from the wicket and it did help. Austalia’s quicks ran through the top order of the strong Indian batting order by getting KL Rahul, Murali Vijay cheaply and they got the big fish Virat Kohli’s wicket thanks to an outstanding diving catch from Usman Khawaja diving to his left from the gully to pull it out of the thin air.
Ajinkya Rahane also got out chasing a wide delivery. India was down to 4 wickets for 50 odd runs already in the first session. Cheteshwar Pujara, on the other hand, was digging it out like a warrior who doesn’t want to give up the battle. He played and missed few delivered, did not went poking at the deliveries outside off stump and was lucky enough on the occasions where he missed edging few of the balls. Australia fast bowlers were hitting the right lengths and lines time and time again and troubled him with some cracking nuts but he survived. Cheteshwar Pujara watched all the wickets go down in a jiffy and still patiently waiting for his chances to come to score runs. He and Rohit Sharma ensured that India did not lose any further wickets in that session. Test match cricket is all about being patient and patience in Pujara is in abundance and that was on the show.
After lunch, Pujara and Rohit Sharma came out to bat and Rohit Sharma got out to Lyon by playing a rash shot so like him everytime he gets starts in “Test Cricket” he throws it away. I mean he literally threw it away. How much a red ball and a white ball makes difference? Well, no better than Rohit Sharma answering it.
Cheteshwar Pujara continued to put his head down and bat. He was nudging the ball and rotating the strike. Nathan Lyon was causing a lot of problems for other batsmen but not Pujara. Pujara was playing Lyon with his mind. He was using his feet against him by stepping down the wicket and playing with the spin on the side and sometimes blocking him outside the line of off stump when he was unsure of the spin. He also countered the Australian quicks quiet nicely by letting the ball go past him without causing any harm. Test match batting at its brilliant best patience, tactics and countering and the 2nd session was done. India further lost Rohit and Rishabh Pant in the session.
In the 3rd session, Pujara was left with Ravichandran Ashwin to bat with and rest of the tail.
He got his fifty and his 20th in test and in 151 balls with a strike rate of 25 that is some grinding and top class innings from him under difficult circumstances but the job was not done yet.
Mitchell Starc was troubling Pujara with bitter pace in the 3rd session. He was bowling 145+mph and was bending his back and Pujara survived the scars. He slashed at few deliveries and went past slips but no one could catch it. When somebody plays innings of mental strength then luck runs in your favor and same happened with Pujara. Ashwin kept supporting Pujara on the other end by sticking himself on the wicket and raised a valuable 50runs plus partnership. Soon after that Ashwin got out by a ripper from Pat Cummins. Pujara was batting at 78 of 205 balls and he had left with the tail now to carry the Indian innings to some decent total.
Pujara continued to bat along with some great strike rotating strokes where he was smart to take the most of the strike to stitch a partnership with Ishant but Ishant got out. Now, he was left with Shami and Bumrah and he needed 11 runs to complete his century. He got a bumper in the next over from Hazlewood and straight on his helmet but Pujara did not duck under it and he went for it and it cleared the fence for a six and very next ball bouncer again but this time its controlled shot from him by rolling his wrists and all along the carpet for a boundary and which took him to 99.
He got to his 100 by flicking the ball to the square leg and took a couple of runs. What a century from this lad. Absolute carnage of test batting display. 1st thing that we are taught when we attend the coaching center is to put our head down to score runs and Pujara put his head down for 231 balls without even giving a glimpse of him struggling on the wicket where everyone came and gone. He stood there like a rock and took India to a formidable total of 250.
Australia was bundled out for 235 in their first innings. The partnership of Pujara with Ashwin and Ishant was the difference in the whole context of the game as India got 1st innings lead of 15 runs and which was also a psychological advantage. In the 2nd innings, he again scored 71 of 204 balls. He survived 2 critical decision which was overturned when he reviewed them and his partnership with Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli turned out to be a match-winning one.
There was so much talk about his strike rate being down in the test, he was not rotating strike quite often, he was stagnant on the crease and everything has been put to rest. No one has the right to point to fingers on his batting, at least in this series.