‘Why don’t they get it?’
At the end of play on Day 1 of the first Test between India and Australia ain Adelaide, the one question on the minds of most Indian supporters would have been a simple one.
Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat first on a pitch that seemed good for batting. But the team knew that the key to the batting effort would be to see out the new ball – and that did not necessarily mean scoring runs. It just meant batting till the ball got a little older and softer.
In perhaps another age, the openers would have simply tried to stay in the middle till at least the end of the first hour. They would have left the ball a lot, played with soft hands and defended solidly when the stumps were targeted.
But what did India get instead? A steady procession of batsmen playing shots that they could well have avoided and giving their wickets away. KL Rahul did it, Murali Vijay did it, Virat Kohli did it, Ajinkya Rahane did it. Four wickets, four avoidable shots.
Yes, the Australian attack was pumped up – in the first 25 overs today, the Australian seamers’ average speed was 142.78 kph and that makes it the fastest new-ball spell of the year in any Test. Yes, they had a plan but it was a plan that relied upon the Indian batsmen playing false shots.
Australian bowling coach David Saker said it was a premeditated plan for the quicks to pitch it up and lure India’s batsmen into false shots.
“We got the wickets the way we thought we might get the wickets,” he told Australia’s Seven network.
India basically played into Australia’s hands until Cheteshwar Pujara took a stand. Now, any plan that works for the rest of this trigger-happy batting line-up will not work for the Saurashtra batsman, simply because he has his own very different method.
He does not attempt to play like Kohli, nor does he want to play shots until he is comfortable with the idea. So, if the Australian bowlers pitched it up and wide, he simply let it go. He wasn’t bothered by the strike-rate. Rather, he only wanted to occupy the crease.
During the press conference after close of play, Pujara revealed that it wasn’t an easy pitch to bat on. “It took me nearly two sessions to figure out which shots you can play [or not play] on this wicket,” he said.
But given how Rohit Sharma had batted in his brief innings, one would have got a very different idea. The Mumbai batsman, who was drafted into the squad ahead of Hanuma Vihari, started off very fluently indeed. His batting, as always, was easy on the eye. The timing was there and he got off to a start. He even seemed to be soaking up the pressure well.
Then, suddenly – like so many others in the line-up – he lost it all in a moment of madness. Having just survived getting out caught at the boundary line off Nathan Lyon, the right-hander decided to have another go. This time, he ended up getting only height and not enough distance on the ball, to be caught by Marcus Harris.
It was poor cricket and in a nutshell, the reason why Rohit hasn’t played too much Test cricket. The rhythms of the longer format are lost on him for now. He understands ODIs and T20s so well but here he seemed desperate despite having got the start.
True class is scoring the runs when the team needs them. They don’t have to be beautiful runs. They don’t have to be spectacular runs. They just have to be runs that will take your team to victory. Most of India’s top order wanted to make an impression through their shots but Pujara’s knock was a reminder that sometimes simple resilience can do that and more.
His knock had 182 dot balls and there was a point when he did not score a run for 55 minutes. But it was only towards the end of the day as the Australian bowlers started tiring because of the heat that we saw the true value of those dot balls. In Test cricket, even dot balls serve a purpose.
The right-hander from Saurashtra has often been maligned for his strike-rate, he has also been dropped from the Test team for that but his 123-run knock showed belief and trust in your own method is just as important at the highest stage.
On a day when his teammates gifted their wickets away, Pujara once again showed that being the odd man out isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it showed that being different is a strength as well.