Pujara — the silent killer

India held its nerve in the business end of the series to claim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 2-1 victory. Sportstar assesses the performances of the Indian players.

Cheteshwar Pujara... lends substance and character to India’s batting line-up.   -  PTI

Under pressure after the fiasco in the first Test in Pune, India showed resilience to fight back and regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 2-1 series victory. Crucially, the host held its nerve in the business end of the series.

K. L. Rahul (393 runs; average: 65.70): 7/10

He blends solidity with methods that are elegant. The manner Rahul batted on the spiteful pitches in Pune and Bengaluru showcased his skills. He played the ball late and did so with soft hands. And he was decisive with his footwork and strokes.

In all, Rahul made six half-centuries in the series, underlining his consistency at the top of the order. Against a probing attack that bowled with specific plans to each batsman, Rahul was calm and assured even as wickets fell around him. The failure to notch up a hundred could be held against him though.

The stylish Karnataka batsman, competent against both pace and spin, should be around for long.

Murali Vijay (113 runs; average: 22.60): 4/10

By his standards, it was a disappointing series for this technically well-equipped batsman. Vijay, also plagued by a nagging shoulder injury, was forced to miss the second Test.

For most part, Vijay struggled to get into an ideal batting rhythm. For someone who ‘left’ the ball so well outside off against pacemen, there were times he was out tentatively edging deliveries in the corridor.

Playing his 50th Test in Ranchi, Vijay showed some of his classical stroke-making ability during a pristine 82 but perished stepping out to Steve O’ Keefe at the stroke of lunch. It was that kind of series for Vijay, one of missed opportunities.

K. L. Rahul, competent against both pace and spin, should be around for long.   -  PTI

Abhinav Mukund (16 runs; average: 8): 3/10

It can be hard to judge a cricketer, particularly on a comeback, in a lone Test. More so, if the pitch is one of variable bounce such as the one in Bengaluru.

Brought in for the injured Vijay, the left-handed opener could not make the opportunity count. But at least, he was able to, along with Rahul, give India some crucial momentum at the start of its second innings.

Cheteshwar Pujara (405 runs; average: 57.85): 8/10

Pujara’s hunger for runs matched his commitment. His temperament was reflected in his patience. The right-hander from Saurashtra was influential in the series. His second innings 92 on a testing surface in Bengaluru, when India was chasing the game against Australia after conceding a 87-run first innings lead, was the knock that turned the series around.

Then, Pujara’s 525-ball 202 in Ranchi — the longest innings by an Indian batsman in Tests — was an epic effort of concentration and skill on a slow, low pitch. This self-effacing cricketer lends substance and character to the line-up.

Virat Kohli (46 runs; average: 9.20): 3/10

He played his cricket with typical passion but the Indian captain allowed the emotions of the moment to get the better of his cricketing ability. By his lofty standards, Kohli had a disastrous series with the bat.

The verbal spats with the Aussies and the heat generated by it all appeared to divert Kohli’s mind from his batting.

He captained with typical verve — his body language was aggressive — but some of his ploys on the field hardly seemed attacking. Bowling outside the off-stump to Steve Smith with seven fielders on the off-side in Ranchi did not make sense when India was seeking to win a Test. The late introduction of Ashwin on the final day — in the penultimate over before lunch — on a surface with some purchase for the spinners was also baffling.

Ajinkya Rahane (198 runs; average: 33): 7/10

Rahane gets additional marks for his captaincy in the final Test in Dharamsala. The Mumbaikar was on the ball, attacked relentlessly even as he stayed cool on the field of play, and did not walk into the Aussie sledging trap. In the duel of the mind, he beat the Aussies at their own game. He also brought the focus of his team back on cricket and channelled the application and energy into a series-clinching victory. As Kohli revealed, Rahane was instrumental in the selection of the game-turning Kuldeep Yadav in the final Test.

With the bat, Rahane made some crucial runs without getting on to a big score. His back-foot play in the final Test against the Aussie pacemen — Rahane cut and pulled — on a pitch with some bounce was impressive.

Karun Nair (54 runs; average: 13.50): 3/10

After his rollicking triple century against England in Chennai, Karun Nair discovered that Test cricket can be a hard ride. Against a well-drilled Aussie attack, he struggled. He has a few technical issues to sort out. He tends to get opened up on occasions.

R. Ashwin (53 runs; average: 8.83. 21 wickets; average: 27.38): 7.5/10

On surfaces that provided assistance, Ravichandran Ashwin was a handful.   -  PTI

 

To his credit, Ashwin bowled through the series in pain since he was grappling with sports hernia — a tear or a strain in a tissue of the lower abdomen area or groin. On surfaces that provided assistance, Ashwin was a handful, getting some bite and purchase from the track. His six for 41 in the second innings in Bengaluru was a match-winning effort when India was defending a below-200 total. On slower tracks such as the one in Ranchi, Ashwin, due to tired spinning fingers and not employing enough body in his action, struggled to get more out of the pitch. Ashwin did not do justice to his ability with the bat but did strike some crucial blows with the ball — he delivered a ripper to take out Steve Smith in the first innings in Dharamsala — and played a key role as the Indian attack demolished the Australian batting in the second innings.

Wriddhiman Saha (174 runs; average: 34.80. 13 catches, 1 stumping): 7/10

On surfaces that offered turn and ones with variable bounce, he kept very well to Ashwin and Jadeja. And he was alert as well when edges flew off the pacey Umesh Yadav. The quality of his ’keeping lifted the confidence levels of the attack.

The little man was the heart of the Indian lower order resistance too. Saha’s pugnacious innings of 117 and his marathon partnership with Pujara in Ranchi — the two kept Australia wicket-less for two sessions on Day Four —underlined the essential qualities of his batsmanship. Saha added considerable weight to the Indian lower order.

Ravindra Jadeja (127 runs; average: 25.40. 25 wickets; average: 18.56): 8.5/10

Ravindra Jadeja’s accurate quicker-through-the-air left-arm spin was distinctly dangerous on surfaces that assisted spin.   -  AP

 

The livewire in the Indian team, he seldom missed out on the action. Jadeja’s accurate quicker-through-the-air left-arm spin was distinctly dangerous on surfaces that assisted spin. He bowled over after over, teamed up with Ashwin and built the pressure relentlessly. The left-armer’s subtle variations in spin and changes of pace fetched him wickets — he had two five-wicket hauls in the series.

With the bat, Jadeja made vital runs, none more important than his aggressive game-changing 63 in the Indian first innings in Dharamsala. And the athletic Jadeja was dynamic on the field.

Umesh Yadav (17 wickets; average: 23.41): 7.5/10

He bowled with speed, heart and craft on these sub-continental surfaces. You got to admire the man’s spirit and his appetite for hard, often unrewarding work.

A more mature bowler now, Umesh bowled with exemplary control and aggression, moving the new ball, reversing the older sphere and employing the short ball effectively. In a series where spinners of both sides donned a major role, Umesh struck telling blows, put the batsmen under stress whenever he came on. His hostile spell in the second innings in Dharamsala — he rocked the Aussie line-up with the new ball — will be remembered for long. That burst put India on the path to a famous series victory.

Ishant Sharma (3 wickets; average: 69.66): 4/10

The lanky paceman was a mixed bag: he impressed on some occasions, disappointed on others. He also got himself involved in on-field incidents. There were times when he was given lengthy spells by Kohli and he did a fair job when fired up. Ishant, however, found wickets hard to come by.

Kuldeep Yadav (4 wickets; average: 22.75) 7/10

His brave selection at the expense of an additional batsman for the Test in Dharamsala was a gamble that worked for India. The young left-arm Chinaman bowler sliced through the Aussie middle-order in an influential spell on Day One when the visitor was on course for a 450-plus score.

His was the spell that opened up the final Test for India when Australia appeared to be running away with the game.

Kuldeep gives the ball air and his short stature allows the sphere to come down in an arc. His stock ball spins into the right-hander — he dismissed Handscomb with one such beautiful delivery — and by way of variation his deliveries also turn away. Kuldeep is different and should give more teeth to the Indian attack in the days ahead. He is an impact bowler.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2 wickets; average: 34.00): 5/10

This swing bowler has a knack of picking wickets. Drafted in for the final Test, Bhuvneshwar struck a crucial blow in the second innings when he had the in-form and ominous looking Smith under-edging an attempted pull, off a well-directed short ball, on to his stumps.

In the campaigns abroad, the much-quicker Bhuvneshwar could be bowling a lot more overs.

Jayant Yadav (2 wickets; average: 50.50): 4/10.

This decent off-spinner with a pleasing action did not get too many opportunities in the series. The all-rounder played in the Pune Test but did not figure in the series subsequently.