SOUTHAMPTON: Cheteshwar Pujara defended team-mate Ravichandran Ashwin after a poor outing by the premier off-spinner left India with the possibility of facing a daunting task in the fourth Test against England here.
England relied on Jos Buttler's gutsy half century to take a competitive lead of 233 runs by stumps on the third day.
In contrast to Moeen Ali's five-wicket haul, Ashwin struggled to get going on Saturday and finished with 1-78 in 35 overs despite his good bowling form earlier in the series.
Pujara though defended his teammate.
"I don't think he had a bad day. He didn't get too many wickets but he kept on bowling in the right areas. Sometimes as a bowler you do have such days when you are bowling but you might not end up picking too many wickets," Pujara said.
The Tamil Nadu off-spinner couldn't use the footmarks created by the trio of Mohammed Shami (3/53), Ishant Sharma (2/36) and Jasprit Bumrah (1/51 in 19 overs).
First-innings centurion Pujara said, "Someone like him, he is a clever bowler, and he has done really well for us throughout the domestic season as well as overseas.So, I don't think he has bowled badly at all."
"But yes the pitch has slowed down a lot and that could be the reason some of his balls (deliveries) didn't go through as much he might have wanted."
"It is their team combination. I don't think it matters too much, but being an off-spinner, Ashwin bowls well to left-handers. I don't think it makes a huge difference."
Pujara said that the key to winning the Test would be batting well on a slowing track in the second innings, especially against Moeen Ali.
"The most important thing was scoring some runs in the last Test match. I had been batting well throughout the season although I didn't get too many runs in county cricket. But I was playing on some challenging wickets. Sometimes even if everything is correct you do get out."
"I just accepted that fact and kept working on my game. I don't think there was anything wrong with my technique or my game. So I just trusted it and it paid off in the last Test match and when I got fifty I knew that I was up for a big one. I was batting well, so I just kept on batting, and things worked well for me in this innings."
Despite Pujara's 132, India finished with 273 runs in the first innings, after losing five wickets for 34 runs.
"When he bowled in the first innings the wicket was a little quicker. Obviously, some of our batsmen could have batted well against him, but he is a good bowler."
"Obviously I am not trying to take any credit away from how he bowled. But we still should have batted better against him. I think in the second innings our batsmen will have a better game plan against Moeen."
He said the pitch at the Rose Bowl is behaving like those in the Indian sub-continent and could favour the visiting batsmen in the fourth innings.
"I don't think it was a tough day for us, in the sense, looking at the pitch it has slowed down a bit. Looks like it is slightly easier to bat. And we have got lot of experience playing in such conditions back home. We started off well in the first innings but we lost too many wickets in the middle phase which, if we had batted well, we could have got 100 or 150 runs lead."
"But that is something in the past. All the batsmen, they have realised what they need to do and in the second innings we will put up a good show after bowling them out early tomorrow," Pujara said of the game situation.
England lead the five-match series 2-1 with the final Test to be played at the Oval in London.
"I have played some county games and even played a Test match here in 2014. Looking at this pitch it always slows down a bit, but the kind of wicket it is here, we have played on such wickets in India that tends to slow down as the game progresses."
"Even the bounce is low. Most of our batsmen are used to such bounce and it could be in our favour in the second innings."