Pujara, Shah make England sweat
Mumbai A 232 for 4 (Pujara 87, Shah 84*) trail England XI 345 for 9 dec (Bairstow 118, Morgan 76, Patel 60) by 113 runs
A week after arriving in India for what has been billed as the "final frontier" for the England Test team, their bowlers were given the chance to bowl to a potential top-order India batsman. They learnt how much a missed opportunity in the field could cost them as Cheteshwar Pujara, one of two contenders for the No. 3 slot in India's batting line-up, made most of his life to score 87 for Mumbai A on the second day of the warm-up game at the Dr DY Patil Sports Stadium.
Thanks to Pujara's accomplished but understated innings and his 163-run association for the third wicket with left-hander Hiken Shah, Mumbai A ended the day at 232 for 4 in response to England XI's 343 for 9 declared.
Despite being a Saurashtra player, Pujara was asked to join the Mumbai A team along with Delhi's Shikhar Dhawan on the recommendation of the national selection panel. While the newly married Dhawan failed to celebrate by making the opportunity count, Pujara achieved his primary objective - that of spending some quality time at the crease - during his 262-minute knock.
England, on the other hand, were at less than 100%, with the seamers preferring to bowl within themselves for most of the day. To add to their difficulties, Stuart Broad did not bowl after tea and was sent for a scan on a heel injury after the close of play.
The tourists' spin duo of Monty Panesar and part-time offspinner Joe Root could hardly extract anything off a slow wicket. As a result, after dismissing both the openers before lunch, England XI went wicketless for almost four hours. The most disappointing aspect for England was their slack fielding, which included a missed catch off Pujara's edge early on in the second session.
Had James Anderson not dropped the "genuine edge" - as admitted by the batsman - off Panesar's bowling, England could have been more aggressive in conditions that were of little help to bowlers. Mumbai A were 60 for 2 then, with Pujara on 22. But by the time Pujara was dismissed 13 runs short of a century in an identical manner minutes before stumps, the damage had been done.
While Pujara resisted playing shots for a better part of his innings, the cuts and drives started flowing once he crossed fifty. He took 140 balls to reach his half-century but the next 37 runs came off just 44 balls.
"The pitch was on the slower side, but that's going to be the case in Indian conditions," Pujara said. "This match gave me a chance to get used to the actions of the England bowlers, have a look at their strengths, what kind of swing they're trying to bowl against me and what kind of strategy they would use. I could get a little idea about these things. It won't be the same in Tests though, because the intensity will be on the higher side. England's fielding was not quite up to the mark in this match but it will be much better in the Tests.
"Patience is my strength. The runs I've scored in this practice match were not the key. I wanted to be at the crease as long as possible and have a look at all the bowlers."
With focus firmly on Pujara's battle against the England attack, Shah played a fluent knock. Despite making his first-class debut five seasons ago, the 27-year-old has failed to establish himself as a permanent fixture in the Mumbai middle order but this knock could well be a step forward in helping establish him in the Mumbai line-up.
An inauspicious start with the bat set the tone for England XI for the rest of the day, as they added just seven runs for the loss of three wickets to their overnight 338 for 6, before declaring. The early breakthroughs with the ball were made by Graham Onions, seeking to tug the selectors by the sleeve after Steven Finn's injury, and Root but late wickets for Panesar and Anderson couldn't prevent it from being England's toughest day on tour so far.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo