The Lone Ranger!
Pujara the purist saves India the blushes on an eventful first day of the Border-Gavaskar series
The latest instalment in the Australia-India rivalry kicked off at The Adelaide Oval in spectacular fashion for the hosts. India seemed to have come to the ground having just watched the movie 300. Such was their intent to dominate their opponents that they committed hara-kiri even before the series was an hour old. But unlike Leonidas and his men –who were badly outnumbered- the Indians were up against a foe that was equal in number and with time on their hands. (The Spartans were up against an army of over 100,000 men and had only 3 days to give the rest of the Greek armies time to counter the enemy). However they continued their suicide mission even after the lunch- break much to the Australians’ delight. Batsman after batsman proceeded to make their merry way back to the dressing room, on the back of some reckless shots, leaving their fans with another bout of deja-vu.
Amidst the ruins though, one man stood tall. Cheteswar Pujara – India’s no.3 batsman- decided to take the fight to the opposition. But not for him were the flamboyant and flashy styles of his departed teammates. Instead his plan was to ground them into the dust. He batted for over 6 hours to lead India back from the abyss, finding a suitable ally in R.Ashwin. His brilliantly composed 123 has to be one of the grittiest knocks by an Indian batsman overseas and arguably his best.
While most of his compatriots were stuck in T20 mode, he showed them what good old-fashioned Test match batting was all about. Such was his determination at the crease that his innings would have brought a smile to his legendary predecessor – Rahul Dravid. The man from whom he inherited the pivotal one-drop position was known for batting long hours and performing when his team needed it the most.
The series commenced with Virat Kohli winning the toss and electing to bat. K.L. Rahul departed in the second over for a paltry score of 2, going for a flashing drive to a ball he could have well left alone. India 3/1. Vijay departed soon after for 11, going for a drive very early in his innings. India 15/2. This brought Indian captain and the best batsman in the world – Virat Kohli to the wicket. All eyes were on the India skipper and like so often in the past, his team was looking to him again for a big score. But that was not to be. Pat Cummins, who is known to get the big fish in the opposition’s line up got Kohli driving at a wide one that was spectacularly caught by Usman Khawaja. India 19/3. Rahane came and went for 13. India 41/4.
Rohit Sharma, probably given his last chance to stake his claim as a Test batsman, counter attacked to a quick-fire 37 that included two beautiful sixes, before a brain fade brought an end to his innings. India 86/5.
India’s wicket keeper batsman Rishabh Pant came to the crease thinking he was turning out for The Delhi Daredevils. His attempt to hit every ball to the boundary seemed to come out of the Shahid Afridi batting manual. And much like the flamboyant Pakistani, his cameo came to an end at 25, when the need of the hour was patience and rotation of the strike. He had a senior partner at the other end and all he had to do was offer him the requisite support. India 127/6.
As wickets continued to tumble, Pujara batted unflustered and finally found a willing partner in Ashwin to give him company. The two put on a crucial 62 runs that got India back into the game, with Pujara bringing up his half century. But just when things seemed to be settling down for India, Cummins struck, removing Ashwin for a well-compiled 25. India 189/7.
Ishant Sharma followed soon for 4, leaving India at 210/8. This is when Pujara switched gears. Being aware of the lack of batting prowess of his remaining partners, Pujara began to take on the Aussie pacemen by sending consecutive deliveries to the boundary, one of them over.
He soon brought up a well-deserved century (even though he should have been given out on 89, but the Australians did not go for a review) to silence all his detractors for scoring too slowly or for not being able to make important runs overseas. He was the last wicket to fall on the day, run-out brilliantly by a flying Pat Cummins.
India, who were staring down the barrel at one stage, recovered on the back of the Saurashtrian’s Herculean effort. From 3-19 at one stage, he carried them to a respectable 250/9 at the end of the day. But for his knock, India would have already surrendered the 1st Test to their opponents.
India as has been the case in recent times when travelling overseas, found their one dependable batsman, but this time it was not Virat Kohli. Their Lone Ranger answered to the name- Cheteswar Pujara.