Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara prove India willing to get their hands dirty
by SportsDiction – 18, December, 2020
It is a shame that on a day of high-quality Test cricket, a run-out and what followed in the next half hour will be spoken about more than the persistent bowling in what were less-than-ideal conditions for the home side and the expert batting to counter them for close to 80 overs.
The run-out, of course, could still have a decisive say in the Test, but this was a day when the engine room of the Indian batting rolled up its sleeve, got dirty and made sure the team didn’t throw away the advantage of winning the toss, never mind the three wickets lost for 45 runs towards stumps.
In the first over of the Test, it was clear it would be hard work for Australia’s bowlers to take wickets. A genuine edge with the new ball didn’t carry to the slips. Not a single one would all day. However, it was also soon clear that scoring runs would be hard work, especially when overpitched straight deliveries were hit straight to midwicket or mid-on. It was a slow pitch with steep bounce on which the margin of error was perhaps more for bowlers than batsmen, but then again the edges wouldn’t just carry.
India like scoring fast, Australia like nicking batsmen off. Neither was happening. So Australia shifted their attack straighter, and relied more on Nathan Lyon than they would have liked on the first day. In Lyon’s sights was his nemesis, the twinkle-toed Cheteshwar Pujara, who had reduced the champion offspinner to uttering a mercy plea of “aren’t you bored yet?” on the last tour.
At the sight of Lyon, Pujara, his characteristic phlegmatic self until then, on 21 off 104, began to jump out of his crease. He does so not out of some arrogance but out of the need to not let Lyon bowl lengths that draw forward-defensive shots. It is the most dangerous place to be in when Lyon is bowling because he will keep hitting the splice of the bat and eventually get either of the edges. And while it might look risky to some, Pujara can step out to spinners because that is a skill that has been honed over hundreds of hours of spin faced. He backs himself to judge the length and reach the pitch of the ball or get outside the line and thrust the pad should he be beaten in the flight.
On the last tour, especially in the pivotal first Test, Lyon had missed a trick by not placing a silly point or a silly mid-off, which allowed Pujara to keep thrusting his pad or kicking the ball away. Lyon had remarked then that it was a fair plan against him, and now he needed to respond.
Lyon might not have been able to respond emphatically during that series, but here he had a plan: the silly mid-off. Now Pujara had two catchers to contend with if he stepped out. He even offered a half chance early to that silly mid-off. Forced to play to leg now, he got more inside edges than he usually does, but he kept backing himself. In fact, he stepped out to 14 balls out of 35 he faced from Lyon. At 40%, this rate was significantly higher than his usual 17%.
Lyon kept getting bounce, asking tough questions, but Pujara was not in control of only three of the 14 balls he stepped out to. More importantly, he was quick to cash in whenever he forced Lyon to pitch short. Eventually, Lyon was good enough to draw the dreaded forward-defensive out of Pujara. One of those four dipped enough to land out of his reach and take the inside edge onto the pad. Lyon just believes in bowling the hardest-spun offbreaks that draw batsmen forward and play a little with field placements. “That’s what works in Australia,” he said the last time.