A typically patient and defiant century from Cheteshwar Pujara has kept India’s chances of victory in the third Test alive. Pujara’s unbeaten 130 at stumps on day three in Ranchi helped reduced the deficit to 91 runs, and provided Pujara can carry on his hard fought innings he could put India in front on day four and give them a shot at taking a lead in the Border Gavaskar series.
Of all of India’s batting stars Pujara is often the one who can pass under the radar, but there is little doubt that he is highly valued by his teammates and the coaching staff. While Pujara might not have Virat Kohli’s aggression, KL Rahul’s flair, or Murali Vijay’s elegance – what he does have is patience, determination, and bucket loads of skill.
On a pitch with little bounce, Pujara’s strong bottom hand and low hands were useful in keeping out any balls that may have misbehaved, and his steady temperament allowed him to keep plugging away even when teammates were not so stubborn in resistance at the other end.
With Australia posting 451, India were always going have to fight hard on the slow Ranchi surface that was beginning to show some signs of misbehaving on day three, and it was Pujara who led the way, initially blunting Australia’s attack before showing off his vast array of strokes his way to his 11th Test hundred and second against Australia.
After losing Rahul overnight, Pujara joined Vijay at the crease to see off the rest of the danger on day two through stoic defence before India’s most prolific pairing in the current side started to chip into Australia’s lead. Once Vijay departed to a rash stroke off Steve O’Keefe on the stroke of lunch, it was over the Pujara to fly the flag.
The 29-year-old is known for his patience and temperament, two key qualities to being a successful Test batsman, and he has shown both of those in spades during his Ranchi knock. While his teammates, in particular Vijay, Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane fell around him to loose, ill-disciplined shots, Pujara maintained his powers of concentration to keep out the Australians.
The Saurashtra batsman’s ability to change gears was also on show during his hard fought innings. He displayed great patience in taking 155 balls to reach his half century, before putting the foot down and taking only a further 59 deliveries to reach his hundred – his seventh of this first class season. Towards the end of the day’s play, when patience and defence was required, Pujara once again displayed great temperament to get stuck in and see off the danger.
His ability to read the situation of the game and bat to the tempo that was required stood out above his teammates. In the first 120 balls Pujara faced he scored only 28 runs, before scoring 77 in the next 100 balls. Then, once Pat Cummins managed to remove Rahane and Ravi Ashwin the midst of a fiery spell, Pujara once again read the match situation to perfection knowing India could ill afford to lose another wicket before stumps and scored only 25 more runs in his next 108 balls faced.
The express Cummins was by far Australia’s most threatening bowler, managing to gain surprise bounce from a slow wicket to claim three of his four wickets with bouncers. While India’s batsmen struggled to score against the big quick, Pujara himself had no such problems scoring 35 runs off the 50 deliveries he faced from Cummins.
Pujara has long been spoken of as India’s successor to the great Rahul Dravid, and while there are similarities in style and the way both use concentration and solid defence to grind down an opposition attack, Pujara still has a long way to go before he can be compared to India’s greatest number three. For one, he will need to improve his record away from home – nine of his 11 Test centuries have been scored in India.
His numbers outside India take nothing away from his fantastic innings in Ranchi however. Pujara stood up and thwarted an Australian attack that was full of confidence and buoyed by the wickets falling at the other end, but the one man they could not remove was Cheteshwar Pujara whose series of exquisite drives, cuts and flicks, combined with solid defence led India towards parity in this crucial third Test match.
With another 91 runs still required to surpass Australia’s first innings total India will be hoping Pujara can deliver on his reputation for building a big innings and guide his side to a crucial first innings lead.