India vs Australia: Improved Pujara works wonders

Cheteshwar Pujara’s composure and solidity have been massive factors in India retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and the right-hander's success is down to a change in his batting stance.

Cheteshwar Pujara's form with the bat has been pivotal to India retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.   -  getty images

He has steel in his bones, does not get flustered by situations or the opposition and scores with substance over style.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s composure and solidity have been massive factors in India retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Virat Kohli and his men now eye a historic series triumph in the fourth Test at the SCG. The skipper will be seeking another influential performance from Pujara.

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His two hundreds in the series so far - 123 in Adelaide and 106 at the MCG - have been match-winning efforts. Pujara has blunted and subdued a very good Aussie attack.

The patient Pujara has even managed to alter Kohli’s mindset in the ongoing series. How things change!

Changing mindset

In the 2014-15 series, Kohli, who had taken over the captaincy after M.S. Dhoni announced a shock retirement from Tests in Melbourne, did not include Pujara in the final Test at the SCG.   -  afp

 

In the 2014-15 series, Kohli, who had taken over the captaincy after M.S. Dhoni announced a shock retirement from Tests in Melbourne, did not include Pujara in the final Test at the SCG.

The reasoning was that Pujara, unable to force the pace at No. 3., was slowing down the Indian innings. Kohli was keen on momentum, on keeping the scoreboard ticking along briskly.

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After the Melbourne Test last Sunday, Kohli said, “Now we have the bowling attack that we can rely on to get us 20 wickets and his [Pujara’s] role becomes even more crucial.”

Kohli added, “If he can bat time and hold one end, and all the other batsmen can bat positively around him, we get 350, touching 400, in conditions in Australia, which puts us in a great position to get a result.”

An upright stance

When the ball was over-pitched, Pujara has driven firmly off the front foot between cover, mid-off or down the ground. Anything on his legs, he can whip.   -  getty images

 

To his credit, Pujara has worked on his batting. Last time around down under, he was troubled by the extra bounce since he was crouching too much in his stance. When the ball climbed he was unable to get on top of the ball and keep it down.

Now, Pujara is more upright and relaxed in his stance, is in a much better position to play the lifting deliveries. He is also able to essay the back-footed strokes through point or covers, so crucial on the Australian pitches.

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This has been a series where Pujara has batted intelligently, showing judgment around off, defending the good deliveries, rotating the strike and waiting for the bowler to err in length.

When the ball was over-pitched, he has driven firmly off the front foot between cover, mid-off or down the ground. Anything on his legs, he can whip. And Pujara has picked runs off the pull shot.

Pujara employs his feet against spinners but has also used pad-play tactfully against the world-class off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

A flexible approach

The 30-year-old Pujara has 328 runs at 54.66 from the three Tests of the series so far. And in 67 Tests overall, he has 5233 runs at 49.73.

Earlier in the year, Pujara’s unbeaten 132 in Southampton was an innings of character in testing conditions.

He rallied with the tail, even pulled out some big shots towards the end. Kohli said Pujara had become more “flexible” in his approach.

Mulling the playing XI

The surface at the SCG has traditionally assisted the spinners from day four and the Indians could well strengthen their attack with the inclusion of a second spinner in R. Ashwin in the eleven.   -  getty images

 

Meanwhile, the Indians had an off-day in Sydney on Tuesday. The team management has to make a big call ahead of a Test that could become a part of India’s cricketing folklore.

The surface at the SCG has traditionally assisted the spinners from day four and the Indians could well strengthen their attack with the inclusion of a second spinner in R. Ashwin in the eleven.

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Ashwin is making a good recovery from a muscle strain and has been bowling plenty of deliveries in the nets. If fit, Ashwin could come in for Rohit Sharma who has flown back to India for personal reasons.

Ashwin, along with physio Patrick Farhat and strength and conditioning coach Shankar Basu, came to the stadium and bowled. This was not an official fitness test but Ashwin was the lone Indian cricketer at the ground.

The fact that both spinners, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who bowled capably in Melbourne, can bat will ensure that the batting is not weakened.   

Gunning for glory at the SCG, India will need all its bowling resources.