It’s all about Pujara and the bowlers

The 70-odd extra runs scored as Cheteshwar Pujara carried the lower order gave the bowlers just the cushion they needed as they overshadowed their much-vaunted batting teammates in the first India vs Australia Test.

The ICC decision to have the teams come out with young boys and girls for the anthems is a wonderful initiative. It’s so heartwarming to see the kids walking out holding hands with some of the biggest names in the game.   -  Getty Images

After many a thrill and spill, India has emerged victorious in the first Test in Adelaide against Australia. The century by Cheteshwar Pujara will rank as one of the finest Test hundreds by an Indian batsman considering the situation the team was in at lunch time on day one after the Indian skipper Virat Kohli had opted to bat after winning the toss. The careless shots played by the top-order Indian batsmen in that first session were hard to digest simply because there was nothing that the bowler had done with the earlier deliveries for them to attempt those shots. They were also not playing for the first time in Australia, so it wasn’t as if they were surprised by the pace and bounce in the pitch of which there was hardly any. Pujara then showed them what a Test innings should be by pacing his innings beautifully. He was patient at the start as he usually is, and then when the lower order was with him, he accelerated without taking any risks and added valuable runs for the team.

Those 70-odd extra runs gave the Indian bowlers just the cushion they needed as they once again overshadowed their much-vaunted batting teammates. There is an old saying that unless a team takes 20 wickets, they can’t win. Well, the Indian bowlers took 20 wickets in seven out of the eight Test matches that were played in South Africa and England earlier this year, yet India lost those series simply because the batsmen didn’t score enough runs.

In England earlier this year, Pujara was left out of the playing XI for the first Test ostensibly because he was out of form and was not scoring quickly enough. His strike rate was not what the team wanted and so he was the sacrificial lamb. Strike rates are important, but only when a team needs quick runs and at that stage somebody like a Pujara can be dropped down the order and the so-called quick scorers promoted. Test cricket is a five-day game and nowadays most games finish latest by lunch time on day five.

Strike rates can be very misleading because they never tell you the circumstances and the pitch conditions and the bowling attack that a batsman is facing. What good is strike rate if a batsman scores 20 off 10 deliveries and then perishes in a Test match? How does it help the team? A tailender can have a strike rate of 200 by hitting a boundary and getting out next ball, but does it help the team? So strike rates should be taken into account only as far as the limited-overs matches are concerned for there they can make a difference. But as far as Test cricket is concerned, the batsman’s adaptability and ability to score hundreds should be the only criteria. Hopefully, Pujara has made his point with that classic hundred at Adelaide, and there won’t be any more talk about his strike rate.

Justin Langer, the coach of the Australian team, has come under some criticism for some of the slogans that he has encouraged in the change room, like elite honesty, etc.

The era of the gentleman cricketer who walked when he knew he was out and who didn’t appeal when he knew the batsman was not out has long gone. And players today believe that the umpire is there to do a job and by all standards is well compensated and so they will wait for his decision and not help him. They will say that they have suffered through wrong decisions in the past, so why not wait for the official to take the call. Fair enough.

Whether Langer wants the Australians to be honest about their appealing or not we will soon see, but what he had done even during his playing days was to think out of the box. He would, with the team skipper’s permission of course, invite inspirational figures to the team meetings and change rooms to talk to the players and share their experiences. Engaging with the fans and supporters is another aspect that Langer took very seriously and therefore it is no surprise to know that the Australian team has invited a six-year-old boy suffering from a rare ailment to come and meet the team and even practise with them. Cricket Australia also encourages this and they made a special kit for the young kid so he could be part of the team.

Kohli also does this regularly and spends valuable time with the less fortunate, and their blessings and good wishes no doubt help him. Such social responsibility is what the Board of Control for Cricket in India should also be looking at as it will not only bring sunshine into the lives of those who are suffering, but also help in diluting to a great extent the negative image that it has.

The image that the BCCI is only interested in making money is ingrained in the minds of the people unfortunately, but just some simple actions like what the Australian cricket board has done will help mitigate it considerably. The best platform for that is the Indian Premier League, where the franchises should be urged to take up charitable and social initiatives especially now that they don’t have to pay the BCCI any fees. With the immense viewership for the tournament, this will have a far-reaching impact and help ease the lives of many sufferers.

The International Cricket Council decision to have the teams come out with young boys and girls for the anthems is a wonderful initiative. It’s so heartwarming to see the kids walking out holding hands with some of the biggest names in the game. Some of the kids may not even know who the player is or how great a player is, but just walking out in front of thousands at the ground and millions watching on TV will inspire them to work hard and try to reach lofty standards.

Well done, ICC, and let’s have more such initiatives from the other member boards, too.