India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 1st day November 23, 2012

Pujara dance leaves England in the dark

Nimble feet in defence and attack have been the key feature of Cheteshwar Pujara's immaculate series so far

Cheteshwar Pujara has now spent all but 30.1 overs of this series on the field. Of that he has been at the wicket for 235.2 overs - close to 15 hours - without getting dismissed, for 361 runs. England could well be looking for Lord Relator to write a new Calypso for him.

R Ashwin, who has played a lot of domestic cricket against Pujara and who added an unbeaten 97 with him today, was later asked to reveal the secret of how to get Pujara out. Ashwin wasn't about to. All he said was "lbw".

In this form, though, forget about getting Pujara lbw. Looking at the number of times he has left the crease to play the spinners, Pujara has hardly locked himself up in order to stay in the house. The spinners will need to pin him down first. This is what stood out first about Michael Clarke and his batting against spin. Clarke had grown up batting that way in Sydney, and he did the same on debut in Bangalore.

Incidentally, Pujara too made his debut at the same ground, with Clarke in opposition. And Pujara had every reason to mistrust that pitch, and his own fate. After years of hard work, when his chance finally arrived, it took only three balls for a grubber to hit the stumps boot high. In the second innings, though, promoted to No. 3, he charged down to the first ball of spin he faced in Test cricket. Off the first six balls of spin he faced in his career, he took 10 runs by jumping out of the crease and without lofting the ball at all. He went on to help India complete a tricky chase successfully.

Three hundreds later, we have seen enough of Pujara to know that if he is in form, he will not let spinners bowl to a rhythm they want to bowl to. He will keep leaving the safe confines of the crease to get to the pitch of the ball. Not to loft the ball, but to drive it along the ground or push it around or even defend it. It is easy to say that to get to the pitch of the ball is the best way to play spin, but that's all it is. Easy to say.

To do it 'Pujara style' takes not only skill, but also clarity of thought, courage and confidence in your own game. It's almost like jumping off a plane with the tug on the parachute bag in a new location every time. You jump out of the crease just as the ball is about to leave the bowler's hand. A second earlier, and the bowler can adjust the delivery. A second too late, and you can be too late, thus struggling to reach the pitch of the ball. Even if you time the move to perfection, you leave yourself open to all sorts of possibilities, with just a four-inch-wide piece of wood and your own front leg to counter them. The ball can be shorter than you expect, it can be wider, and it can behave funny after pitching.

Pujara is not the first batsman to do it successfully and as regularly as he does, nor is stepping out the only trick that he employs. Today, he swayed out of the line of the bouncers beautifully, just the thing to do in the subcontinent where the ball can stay low and hit you when trying to duck. He judged the shorter length from spinners to perfection, and went back and punched on either side of the pitch.

"The amount of times he trusted his defence and kept on defending was brilliant," Ashwin said of Pujara's effort. "It eased the nerves as I went into bat. He was defending beautifully."

To have scored 361 runs without getting dismissed, over three innings, you have to be doing many things right, but it is Pujara's leaving of the crease that is exhilarating to watch. Especially on a pitch with enough turn and bounce to make the best of them fumble and grope in darkness. What makes it even more special is that he kept doing it even with wickets falling at the other end. And he does it in a controlled manner: despite that movement the head remains stable and on the ball, he is never looking for any wild shots. Moreover, it is hard to remember any instances of his panicking or coming close to missing the ball with that safe box behind him.

Ashwin said Pujara doesn't deal in small hundreds. If he does go on to turn this too into a big one, look at those feet more closely.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    Just imagine, what would have been India's plight in this series, if the selectors had kept Pujara out, the way they continue keep Rahane out. I fully concur with what leslie_alo said in his post, about Rahane. The quality of Rahane's techniques and temperament is quite comparable to that of Pujara, though different in many ways. Rahane,for example, plays mostly from within the crease. Started stepping out more, after joining his IPL team. Rahane should replace Gambhir, in the next two tests. And, Gambhir should be sent back to domestic cricket to regain form (and some humility)

  • Ed on November 24, 2012, 9:18 GMT

    In two matches Flower has made two selection mistakes - he picked Broad to play in both matches.

  • Yasir on November 24, 2012, 8:21 GMT

    Only Pujara stood up to the England bowlers.. 5 batsmen couldnt even cross the double figure.What just happened to the great Indian batting line up.and on top of that it was India's home ground..What a performance by Indian batsmen

  • suabhdeep on November 24, 2012, 6:39 GMT

    Contrary to popular belief spread out by AUS/ENG media, Michael Clarke is not really a very good player of spin bowling. He didn't get much success against India, Pakistan and SriLanka in subcontinent. The very first innings being mentioned here was more of a shock and Indian spinners not quite planned for a 4th down new comer. In the subsequent innings he could not score well. Something similar to Adam Gilchrist who played a match winning century in the first innings in 2001 series and could not reach even 10 subsequently. Against Pakistan, Sri lanka and even Ashes Clarke's performances were pathetic while true batting against spin was needed. Scoring against SA rollers like Imran Tahir, Harris is not example of expertise of spin bowling. Comparing Pujara's (and Any Indian middle order batsman in that respect) spin playinability to Clarke (and any AUS/SA batsmen) is a big JOKE. Indian batters are the ultimate players of spin bowling, SA/AUS/UK batters are not even novices w.r.t them

  • P Subramani on November 24, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    Incidentally,the Don played almost all his tests in England and Australia. So Pujara's task is that much more difficult. He has to prove himself against good bowling the world over. Given his humility and penchant for practice, I think he will come through everywhere. He needs a good county stint. I hope Sussex beckons. They have an illustrious line of Indians who played for them. Ranji, Duleep,Tiger Pataudi all played for them. And now is the time to blood Rahane in the middle order. He is another technical whizkid and a batsman for the big scores. Indian cricket will start looking up from now on I believe. Probably more than it did in the earlier generation.

  • subra on November 24, 2012, 3:21 GMT

    I think Pujara pulled Indians out of the disaster.even now Indians are not out of the difficulties LIke(SA) they should score atleast 450 and then only they can defend for you dont expect the tallented English batsman to sit and watch /who knows when Peterson volcano will erupt and who knows when Ian bell will score his century -so Unless Indian Firest nnings score is really high above 450 the England has upper hand- After 3 rd day If indians bat they may not score well in second innings especially Ghambir SRT and others.Let Indian team cross the danger first by scoring heavily then we start thinking about counter atack

  • Swastik on November 24, 2012, 3:20 GMT

    @leslie_alo -- Exactly. The world hasn't seen anything. Rahane has an equally good temperament, and a better technique. Not taking anything away from Pujara, he has been as stunning as anyone can expect him to be.

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2012, 2:12 GMT

    Pujara has passed his first test, which is to score in home conditions. Now, it will be interesting to see how he fares outside of subcontinent.

  • Srinivas on November 24, 2012, 0:44 GMT

    @Bilal94, as my screen name suggests, I'm a staunch admirer of Dravid. But, let us meet here again on Cricinfo in 10 years time. You will know that Pujara is better than his idol Dravid. His skill, soft hands and patience are there for everyone to see. I've been following Pujara closely in the domestic circuit for nearly 5 years and I'm more than convinced that he is the rarest of rare geniuses in the Dravid mould and even better than Dravid.

  • David on November 24, 2012, 0:18 GMT

    Great stuff, Pujara! He could be the perfect replacement for the legendary Dravid...only time will tell. If he can perform as well overseas (and the indications are that me may well!) then the replacement will be complete. That will be the acid test, and IF he can help India win as many Tests as Rahul did for India over the years, then India will have, at long last, uncovered a new batting star in the mould of "The Wall"!! Let's hope that Ashwin and Harbie can rout England, and take a 2 - 0 lead...

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