Pujara eases into Test mode
Indians 341 for 6 dec (Pujara 81, Binny 81*) lead Derbyshire 326 for 5 dec (Durston 95, Godleman 67*, Jadeja 2-27) by 15 runs
It might have been a low-intensity nearly-an-exhibition match against the 2nd XI of the second-worst team in county cricket this year, and the Indians might have spread their energies over the actual game, nets, gym and medical requirements, but someone forgot to tell Cheteshwar Pujara.
India's No. 3, and one of their two most important batsmen in the Tests, batted as if in a Test match, paying due respect to accurate deliveries before batting more freely as the innings progresses, scoring 81 to take the Indians to 341 for 6 in their 91 overs in response to Derbyshire's 326 for 5. Pujara retired himself out so others could get a hit; he is yet to be dismissed by a bowler on this tour after he retired-out for 57 against Leicestershire.
Pujara came in after the early fall of the openers, and hardly played an incorrect shot in his 131-ball stay, which included 13 fours. There were the drives in the V down the ground, one crunchy boundary through cover, wristy whips off the pad, and the powerful cut.
Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja and Stuart Binny managed to spend decent amounts of time at the wicket, with Kohli looking as tuned in as Pujara before edging one onto the stumps when trying to leave it. Dhoni, Jadeja and Binny scratched around a bit before looking comfortable.
Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay scored 6 each of 26 balls, but you would not imagine the team management saw anything that would put Gautam Gambhir ahead of either of them. They did leave the ball well during their partnership before Vijay was ruled lbw against Mark Turner although he appeared to hold up his bat before he reluctantly walked off.
Dhawan was beaten twice outside off, going for the drive, before a poke finally took the edge, off the bowling of the accurate Ben Cotton, whose figures at one point read 11-5-8-2.
Kohli and Pujara will hope they are not walking out within the first hour come Trent Bridge, but they suggested they might be well equipped should that happen. Both built their innings solidly, getting their eye in before branching out. Pujara was the first one to show intent, getting off the mark with a straight-driven four. Kohli took 10 balls to open his account with a pushed single into covers, but soon picked up boundaries through an off drive and an on drive. Just before lunch, Pujara whipped one to leg to bring up fifty for the stand, which was dominated by Kohli's 32.
Kohli did not add much after lunch, and Dhoni surprised by pushing himself, Jadeja and Binny ahead of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. The three had not batted at Grace Road, either. Even as Pujara moved along serenely and solidly, Dhoni batted in an interesting fashion.
A balanced batsman who plays normally in limited-overs cricket, Dhoni somehow feels the need to walk down the pitch when he has his whites on in order to counter the movement. Here he did that to almost every delivery until he had the medium-pacers bowling short, which he could pull and hook. It remains to be seen if this is going to be Dhoni's game plan against quicker and more-skilled Test bowlers, with stakes raised.
Four runs short of his fifty, Dhoni gave left-arm spinner David Wainwright the charge, was deceived, and bowled. Jadeja came in, and should have been dismissed immediately when he opened the face to a shortish delivery to give the slips catching practice. Chesney Hughes, though, dropped him, and was witness to a few powerful cut shots and a few mistimed lofts as Jadeja helped himself to 45.
Binny, who had come in to replace Jadeja, got hit on the pads a few times, looked to be playing with his hands too hard early in the innings, but displayed a few attractive shots once he settled down. He remained unbeaten on 81 off 111 deliveries, hitting two sixes and nine fours.
The playing conditions decided upon in the match dictate both the sides declare their first innings after a day's play each, and split the third day down the middle. It makes the third day interesting because the Indians get to bowl again, and we get to see if Mohammad Shami has recovered from his calf strain to be able to get some overs into his legs.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo