Batting in Tests is like driving through any big city. There are moments when you should drive carefully, out-manoeuvre traffic, and then accelerate when you get safe passage. Cheteshwar Pujara is excellent at this. He starts fairly slowly, taking the time he needs to get his feet moving decisively, and picks up after crossing a half-century. Eventually he just hits cruise control.
Irrespective of how quickly you score in Tests, you end up blocking about 70% of deliveries and so it is imperative to have an impeccable defensive technique. Pujara's game is built on his ability to keep the good balls out for a really long period of time. He has the patience to not worry about where his next run will come from, and his game plan is sacrosanct with regards to his scoring areas.
When his stumps are threatened, he plants his front foot fairly straight down the pitch, allows the ball to come to him and defends everything in between the shoulders. The only flaw in his defensive game is a collapsing back knee, which creates a slight gap between bat and pad. Bowlers can exploit this on pitches with lateral movement.
Game against spin
Pujara chokes his bat on the handle and uses his dominant bottom hand to create power and find gaps. Against offspin, since he rarely hits over the top, his focus is always to get as close to the pitch of the ball as possible to drive through mid-on or the covers.
His combination of solid defence and quick feet forces offspinners to drag the length shorter, thereby playing into Pujara's hands. Like all bottom-hand batsmen, he is extremely strong off the back foot. He has a huge range of strokes on both sides of the pitch.
Against left-arm spinners, Pujara prefers to stay rooted to the crease. He wears them down by defending ball after ball, which in turn leads to a few short, hittable balls. Patience, being intangible, is an underrated skill. But every knock that Pujara plays highlights its importance.
The collapsing back leg that causes trouble against pace allows him to stay beside the line of the ball against spin thereby allowing him to create width when there is none.
O'Keefe tried bowling outside leg stump, hoping Pujara will get tempted into sweeping, but the best part of Pujara's batting is that he has a list of do's and don't's and he religiously adheres to it. If he doesn't want to sweep, no amount of temptation will make him sweep.
For a bottom-hand batsman, Pujara drives quite well. His collapsing back leg often makes sure he stays low and it helps keep the ball along the ground.
Driving is all about transferring your body weight at the right time and using your wrists to find the gaps. Pujara controls his bottom hand nicely to place the ball to the right of cover and the left of mid-on when the line of attack is on and around off stump. When the bowler goes straighter, he hits to the left of square leg. Having access to such a wide range of drives is why teams find it tough targeting Pujara with full deliveries.
Four months ago, in Rajkot, Chris Woakes pinged Pujara on the helmet twice. It was quite apparent that his wide stance and a trigger movement of the front foot across onto off stump got him into a tangle against the short ball.
Since then Pujara has narrowed his stance a little and has begun moving his front foot straighter down the pitch. Crucially, he doesn't let the trigger movement force him into playing a shot and this has allowed him to leave the bouncers better.
The only time he is troubled is when the ball isn't a bouncer (the length at which he can't duck) and he tries to ride it. His low grip on the bat coupled with the collapsing back knee prevent him from getting on top of the delivery. In this series, Pujara has been dismissed twice to lifters from Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Pujara is a throwback to the era gone by for his methods are quite similar to the successful Test batsmen of 1970s and 80s. Those were the times of manual cars, not automatics, and his batting epitomises the importance of shifting gears while building a Test innings.