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Rohit Sharma converted India's good position into an impregnable one, but the good position owed itself to Cheteshwar Pujara who kept doing his thing quietly while the attention was on Tendulkar
Sidharth Monga in Mumbai
November 15, 2013
Rohit Sharma was on 96. He had been farming the strike in a 55-run last-wicket partnership until then. Mohammed Shami had scored just one of those 55. Such was Rohit's control of the strike. Now all nine men were back near the boundary. Rohit punched the third ball of a Shane Shillingford over straight to deep cover. And he set off. It was surprising because he had been taking singles only on the fourth ball of the previous overs or even later. Had the proximity to the hundred, which could be his second in as many Tests, got to Rohit?
No. Rohit had seen something we hadn't. The ball was hit towards Chris Gayle. In that split second, Rohit's mind calculated that he had played this towards the slowest man on the field, who would have had to come in a little to prevent the second. Gayle couldn't. And the next ball he placed for a single, leaving Shami only two to face. In those two balls, moving from 96 to 99, Rohit displayed his manoeuvring skills and confidence as a No. 6 batsman who will need to bat with the tail a lot in the future.
Rohit did enjoy some luck no doubt - he was caught off a no-ball, he benefitted from a player not picking the ball and getting lobbed at the boundary and, most importantly, he was up against a clueless attack - but he showed both the hunger and the willingness to take on the responsibility of doing all the scoring. Rohit was on 45 when the ninth wicket fell so the hundred couldn't have been a motivation. It would have been easy to throw his bat around or take the singles and let Shami go after the bowling and take a not-out against his name.
However, he chose to take as many runs as he could without taking risks. India were only 233 ahead when Shami joined Rohit, and being asked to bat again was a distinct possibility. By the end of the partnership, India had left West Indies needing their best effort of the series to deny India a second innings victory and three-day finish of the series. Rohit did most things in the partnership: turning down singles in the first half of the over while finding gaps for couples, taking singles towards the end, finding a boundary if the single became elusive. He once even chipped nonchalantly when long-on was back to the last ball of an over.
In joining Sourav Ganguly as the only Indian to have scored centuries in each of his first two Test innings, Rohit converted India's good position into an impregnable one, but the good position owed itself to one man who kept doing his thing quietly even as the rest of the country immersed itself in celebrating possibly Sachin Tendulkar's last Test innings.
The day after Tendulkar announced he was going to retire after this Test series Cheteshwar Pujara, batting in the small town of Hubli in Karnataka, provided calm and reassurance with his third first-class triple-century, against West Indies A. While Tendulkar was playing what is in all likelihood his final international innings, Pujara was there again, equanimous and inconspicuous as Tendulkar duly took all the focus, scoring his fifth Test hundred, in only his 15th Test.
There will be few Test centuries less talked about. Some of Pujara's exquisite shots on the first evening drew only the "Sachiiiiin, Sachin" chants. As long as Tendulkar batted, the crowd wanted Pujara to hand the strike over with singles. After Tendulkar got out, Pujara popped one up towards short leg. As the third umpire spent a long time determining whether the catch was clean or not, the crowd shouted, "out, out, out." They didn't want India to take too big a lead, which could, given West Indies' poor batting form, mean no more batting for India, and with that, Tendulkar.
That's not how Test matches are won, though. And Pujara is as ruthless an accumulator as they come. He doesn't get too excited, he doesn't get too bogged down, he just bats and bats. During the Eden Gardens Test, where West Indies were bowled out on the first day, Pujara was in the nets as soon as stumps were called. He missed out while he batted in the Test, but as soon as the match got over, on the third evening, Pujara was back in the nets again. He didn't want to miss out again. You could be forgiven for thinking, looking at the results, that this was West Indies A, but the occasion was definitely something else.
Batting with Tendulkar in such a match - and only Pujara batted with him - can put you under pressure to play some shots of your own that will stand out. Alternatively it can make you ride the wave and let Tendulkar take all the pressure. Pujara, though, played this like his 15th Test, not Tendulkar's 200th, not his last. The heartening thing for India for the moment is, Rohit didn't look like he was playing only his second.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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