CHENNAI : Of the 246 balls Cheteshwar Pujara faced on Thursday, there was something special about the 241st. He was batting on 111, it was the 87th over of the day and the total 237/8. In terms of duels won and lost on the day, what happened on that delivery would not have changed anything. Yet, it was a standout moment of the first day of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Mitchell Starc was tired but still clocking above 140. It was pitched short outside off and out came an upper cut for six. Torso leaning towards leg stump, bat raised shoulder-high towards point and knees pointed in the same direction, the batsman held the pose for a second. It cut a very different picture. It’s something he seldom plays, or, rarely gets the luxury to. It’s a shot involving risk and in the shock-absorber’s role Pujara plays, such frills have no place.
On a day fellow batsmen perished showing an attitude that belied sense of occasion, Pujara was playing a familiar game. Although he was stepping out against Nathan Lyon to smother the break off the pitch and also went for a hook which had cost him an innings in England, it was by and large a knock based on caution. Judgement outside off flawless against an attack consistently at it in the first session, it was another innings where not playing the ball in the initial stages was a bigger highlight than shots played afterwards.
That’s why the uncharacteristic hit in the penultimate over stood out. It was a shot of a man confident and relieved, after having done his job when the chips were down. It was played by a batsman who took such liberties only after curbing instinct for almost the entire part of his nearly six-hour stay, after concentrating for hours on not playing at all. It was also a shot that showed he is prepared for what to expect in Australia.
Toiling at the academy run by the Pujaras in the outskirts of Rajkot where his father Arvind functions as a spotter cum coach, this was an integral part of his preparation. Knowing that Starc & Co would get the ball to rise on pitches that assist bounce, it was something the batsman had to get used to. When efforts of local bowlers proved inadequate, he took the help of bowling machines to spar against balls coming to him at that height and pace. Seen at one of Australia’s most iconic grounds was the result of this homework.
“Preparing back home, I was working on a few shots and that was one of them. I wasn’t surprised that I hit it for a six because I had worked on it. I had to obviously bat for two sessions to realise these are the shots I could play and there were some shots which I had to avoid. Batting with the tail, you have to take your chances. But when you are just one or two down, you can’t play the same shots,” Pujara said in Adelaide.
If the upper cut was a lesson in preparation, the louder message was embedded in what he said about ‘when’ to try such things. The adventurous streak he gave a glimpse of after rescuing his team was there in abundance in the earlier half of the innings, when the glam boys fell attempting fancy things. Pujara’s innings was a class for them on when to take chances and when to respect the bowlers.
“We should have batted better. I had to stay patient and wait for loose balls. They bowled in right areas. I also felt our top order should have batted better but they will learn from the mistakes. Hopefully, we will bat well in the second innings. As far as my innings is concerned, I had prepared well and that came in handy today,” he said of his first century in Australia.Advantage of batting first all but lost but still in the game, Indianeed to do things differently to make this trip of Australia memorable from a collective point of view.
India first innings: Vijay c Paine b Starc 11, Rahul c Finch b Hazlewood 2, Pujara (run out) 123, Kohli c Khawaja b Cummins 3, Rahane c Handscomb b Hazlewood 13, Rohit c Harris b Lyon 37, Pant c Paine b Lyon 25, Ashwin c Handscomb b Cummins 25, Ishant b Starc 4, Shami (batting) 6, Extras (lb1) 1, Total (9 wickets, 87.5 ovs) 250.
Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-15, 3-19, 4-41, 5-86, 6-127, 7-189, 8-210, 9-250.
Bowling: Starc 19-4-63-2, Hazlewood 19.5-3-52-2, Cummins 19-3-49-2, Lyon 28-2-83-2, Head 2-1-2-0.