On a day when runs came at a premium and wickets were dime a dozen in Indore, India again fell back on its most reliable warhorse, Cheteshwar Pujara, to steady a rocking ship on day two of the third Border-Gavaskar Test on Thursday.
However, Pujara’s method, in a format that still rewards longevity, endurance, and discipline, belongs to a diminishing breed. His technique and intent will probably still be dissected long after his career is over. But if one doesn’t really understand how he does it, this innings is evidence that Pujara can find a way to not only survive but thrive in the most testing conditions.
“My aim was to be a bit more positive, try and score as many as possible. If there was a bit more of a partnership with Axar (Patel), it could have helped,” Pujara, who fell for a 142-ball 59, told the host broadcaster after stumps. “I’m learning a few more tricks, if there’s demand, I feel rather than playing too many dot balls, if you can take a few chances, you can get runs. Now I’m confident whenever it’s needed, I can play those shots.”
India had lost opener Shubman Gill to a mindless heave when Pujara walked out to bat. But that isn’t new to him. He has bailed his team out for nearly a decade-and-a-half, grinding it out on listless tracks in harsher weather and equally tough oppositions, where he may not be a crowd favourite, unlike some of his other colleagues, but his value to the side is second to none.
Pujara reached his 35th Test fifty with an innocuous single to long-on off 108 balls. He was beaten countless times, rapped on the pads, and even dropped, but he didn’t let it faze him as he went about his business with the assurance of a man who knew spiritually where his off stump was always.
Nathan Lyon, who took an eight-wicket haul on Thursday, has dismissed Pujara 13 times in Tests, thrice in this series. The two have had several exhilarating head-to-heads in the last decade, and the Aussie spin spearhead was all praise for Pujara. “I wouldn’t describe him as flashy. But he is an unbelievable cricketer, and we have a lot of respect for how he goes about his batting,” Lyon said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s bouncing at the Gabba or spinning in Indore, he seems to find a method. I think a lot of boys and girls watch the way he goes about his batting and learn from him. He does not have the big reverse sweeps, but he does have an exceptional defence. For me, Test cricket is built around defence. Not if you’re England at the moment (laughs), but yeah, hats off to Pujara.”
But in the end, Pujara’s effort couldn’t prevent India from collapsing for 163 in its second innings. If only other Indian batters had rallied around their ‘warrior’, the outcome could’ve been different at Stumps.