‘Ah, what are the Indians doing, what is Cheteshwar Pujara really doing in the middle,’ questioned a few set of Indian fans on Twitter while the ones at the ground witnessed a rather spectacular side of the same story. What was Che Pujara really doing?
On Day 2, where batting ideally should be easier for the team batting at the Adelaide Oval, each and every run scored by the Australian batsmen were cheered heavily by the home fans. Every run was gold-dust, every batsman was gold and when they fell in packs, a cry came from over the top, “Where is our Pujaaaraaaaa?”
That’s when the value of Pujara turned into realisation for the fans. For the majority of the first day, the Indians had grown fond of Virat Kohli’s stroke-filled innings, and in equal measures bored of Pujara’s lacklustre approach, it didn’t end there. Translating the Indian voices, the Saurashtra batsman was constantly buzzed about his and Kohli’s ‘slow’ approach in the second session on the first day.
A visibly unfazed Pujara, whose batting was termed boring, lifeless, snore-fest and an endless dose of sleaze, replied in simple terms that ‘patience’ is mighty in the longest-format, where every single run isn’t offered at free of cost to the batsmen. Every run on these lively tracks such as one in Adelaide Oval required more than just patience, it required technique, temperament and a real appetite for ignoring the noise.
“See patience is really required in Test cricket and you really play according to the situation. In case there is nothing for the bowlers, you can play really aggressively but when it is a good bowling wicket, you need patience. You can’t play your shots and the team requires a good start and if the team gets a good start, then the bowler’s advantage will be reduced,” said Pujara in the post-day press conference.
When Australia were out there, visibly happy after reducing the Indians to a total that seemed totally under-par, walked out - the gem of Pujara was truly the noticeable difference. The fans who put the batsman’s approach under the pump now came to his defence and snarled at the Australian approach in the middle-overs. At the same time, the voices also roared how the Indian pacers looked threatening and the Australian batsmen - vulnerable - both in the same sentence.
While Ravichandran Ashwin ran through the Australian middle-order, so did Lyon, who more or less threatened the Indian batsmen with his bowling. However, the partnership between Pujara and Kohli not only tamed the beast in Lyon but also reduced the vulnerability of the Indian middle-order getting capsized by his magnanimous bowling heart.
For the first 100 deliveries, Pujara seemingly looked at the bay, sort of how he practises before big-games, pushing the new-ball on the verge of getting old next door. An equally impressive appetite for leaving the ball outside-off was the difference between the tourists being reduced to 30/3 and hanging in at the same point in time. While his approach will always come under the radar, his approach and technique have always aced and excelled against Australia away from home - one of the major reasons for India’s impressive victory against Australia during the last tour.
Throwback to 2018, it was the all-important Boxing Day clash between Australia and India, with the men in Blue seemingly risking their game with two new openers - one who has always opened his life and the other who hasn’t even opened. But that seemingly risky tactic paid off in limited measures, Pujara remained the mainstay batsman that the nation had yearned for years since Rahul Dravid shattered the wall with his retirement.
In Australia, where the decision to fight or flight would be detrimental - Pujara chose the former and stayed true to its spirits. His untameable in nature kind of innings at the MCG, where he batted for 481 minutes for just 106 runs where he endlessly put the bat or leave to the 319 balls that he faced, gave India a chance to win the all-important game and a handsome lead in the series.
Skip forward in time, to the present - Australia are struggling at 111/6, with Marnus Labuchagne walking off for a 119-ball 47, with the Australian fans dreading on Twitter that perhaps, just perhaps he could have played more and swatted the Indian threat. While Pujara’s innings looked pretty dead-to-rights in terms of entertainment, in terms of skill-set - it was the best that the ‘gentleman’ sport can ever get. Having been bowled out for 191, Australia's innings in the second session certainly showed how tricky batting was, hence emphasising the brilliance of 'Che' Pujara's memorable innings yet again in Australia.
His approach to an innings - in terms of entertainment might be pretty low on the radar but his unperturbed knowledge of the sport, of his own skills - having the utmost control over it - Pujara proved why it isn’t always about the pace in the longest format. To another question about having a ‘possible’ strategy of scoring in the second session when the ball isn’t doing much - the right-hander tamed the question and the mindset, adding that the management has no regrets over their approach and was never even in the line for questioning.
“Not at all, we were in a very good position, and I don’t think you can have such a strategy to score in the first two sessions when the ball is swinging. If we had more wickets in hand, even when they took the second new-ball, we could have got enough runs. Strategically, I don’t think we have any regrets about how we batted today. It was a great day of Test cricket and there is enough in it for the bowlers.
"We are in a good position and if we can add more runs on the board tomorrow, that should be enough.”
That combined with his damning of the outside noise, Pujara shows the way forward for how the tour is going to be - long strenuous and highly skilful; not a blink and miss approach adopted by the others lower down the order.