Fortune favours the brave. Like a true soldier, Cheteshwar Pujara battled pain and agony to guide India’s destiny against Australia in the fourth Test at Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium on Sunday. The match was over in three days. Pujara, who received a nasty blow on his knuckles by James Pattinson during India’s first innings, carved out a magnificent unbeatean 82 in India’s small but difficult chase of 155 runs. Pujara was thrust on the opener’s role as Delhi’s Shikhar Dhawan (fractured finger) and then Gautam Gambhir (jaundice) pulled out of the Test. Although Ajinkya Rahane, who started his first-class career as an opener, was available, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni trusted on Pujara’s ability to take upon the challenge.
Having opened the innings with Murali Vijay in the previous Test, Pujara walked out with the Tamil Nadu opener in the Delhi Test too. Pujara, who made 52 in the first innings, wriggled in pain but was brave enough to put up a century partnership with Vijay. The new batting hero reportedly injured his right index finger and did not take the field when Australia batted in the second innings. On a dramatic third day when 16 wickets fell, India were asked to chase a tricky target.
Dhoni once again had confidence in Pujara to stand up to the challenge despite knowing well that the batsman was not 100 per cent fit. But like a trusted soldier, Pujara endured pain and agony. But ultimately he reaped ecstasy and success.
However, batting on a wicket which had variable bounce and turn, it needed all the technical acumen to confront the conditions and the bowlers, particularly off-spinner Nathan Lyon. The Aussie spinner had taken seven wickets in the first innings and was a big threat. But Pujara had different plans.
Batting maestro VVS Laxman, who played many such knocks in his career, was all praise for Pujara’s display with the bat. “It was an exemplary batting, considering the conditions. It was not easy to bat. But Pujara stood up to the challenge. He was precise with his footwork and never allowed Lyon to pitch on the rough. That was the hallmark of his batting. Of course, his temperament was of the highest order. He kept his composure in playing out one of the finest innings,” said Laxman.
Incidentally, Laxman hit a superb 66 in India’s 155-run chase in 2001 series against Steve Waugh-led Australian team at Chennai. “I had to play my natural game. We were under bit of pressure as wickets fell at the other end. It was a close match,” remembered Laxman.
Pujara ignored the pain that day to slam ten boundaries in his unbeaten knock. He began with a cover drive of Glenn Maxwell. There was an upper cut off left-arm seamer Mitchell Johnson over the wicketkeeper’s head. Even at one stage after Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahane departing with India 27 runs away from victory, Pujara kept the Aussies at bay. He eased the tension, with three successive boundaries off Lyon before Dhoni sealed the issue in favour of India. The two on-drives showed his class.
Stand-in skipper Shane Watson agreed that Pujara took the game away from Aussies. If India had lost the opener, it could have been anybody’s game. “Pujara batted well throughout the series and in this match he got his game under control. I felt even with 20 runs to go we still had a chance to bowl them out as the wicket was doing a hell of a lot, some balls were keeping low. Unfortunately, Pujara didn’t give us a chance,” said Watson after the match, adding, “he’s got great concentration for long periods of time.”