Same old Pujara, all-new approach

Maharoof: Sri Lanka can't let India reach 500 (3:03)

Farveez Maharoof believes Sri Lanka should be containing the run flow as the pitch will only get worse as the Test progresses (3:03)

The thing about really good players is they keep evolving with the game yet they remain the same. Cheteshwar Pujara's 13th Test hundred, in his 50th Test, featured the vintage Pujara acceleration after a watchful start, but it was the slow period that was more instructive. While it seemed like the old Pujara had returned as he capitalised on bowlers' errors in going from 29 off 94 to 83 off 133 without seeming to have played a shot in anger, there was an ever-evolving Pujara on view when the bowlers were fresh and executing their plans well.

When Pujara was new at the wicket, the Sri Lanka spinners had their plans in place. Rangana Herath bowled to him without a man square or behind square on the off side. Every time KL Rahul took a single off any spinner, the deep backward square leg would come up to short fine leg. Sri Lanka knew Pujara doesn't sweep too much, so they could now block the single around the corner, with Dilruwan Perera bowling with a strong leg-side field.

To get rid of that short fine leg, Pujara played the sweep shot. Not the paddle sweep that he played against Australia, that too only on two occasions in the whole series. Before that, in five Tests against England he played the sweep four times, two of which were the lap shot; one of the other two got him out. In the series in the West Indies, he played no sweeps at all. In between, in the series against New Zealand, he played it 11 times, all in one innings, when India were setting up a declaration and were in a dominant position.

Pujara doesn't usually sweep because he finds it an unnecessary risk when he is so good at skipping down the track and reaching the pitch of the ball. However, it means that at times that captains need not care about one quarter of the field when setting fields for him. Pujara prefers to see through these periods. He recently told The Cricket Monthly that he takes liberties only in the second innings and when India are far ahead. He spoke of that Indore innings as an example of playing more sweeps in one innings, perhaps, than he would in a year.

At the SSC, Pujara played the sweep only three times, one of them a boundary past that short fine leg, but those shots opened up the single around the corner. He began breaking free of the shackles with a shot that must be a complete no-no in his book of risk management. Down the wicket and against the turn because the offspinner was bowling to him with a 6-3 leg-side field. Stepping out and hitting the offspinner through the covers was an act he committed he only twice in the whole series against Australia; one of those two shots was off a full toss.

Here he left his crease to Dilruwan Perera, and did this twice in quick succession, bringing about a change in the field and then scoring through the leg side. At the end of the day, Nic Pothas, the Sri Lanka coach, expressed his frustration at the number of runs his bowlers let Pujara score through the leg side, but Pujara had done things to open up gaps there.

A whole series' worth of risks taken in one day's play, even when being watchful - perhaps this is what Pujara meant when he said he is looking at addding "a few more shots in my batting going ahead". It doesn't mean that he goes all T20 on Test cricket, but adds a few more options to force field changes and then play his own game.

And how he played his own game. He stepped out 46 times for 39 runs; only three of those forays were recorded as "not in control" by Cricinfo. One of these three was a ball headed down leg, to another he managed to get his front pad outside the line. While the spinners managed to keep him quiet in the first half of his innings, there was never a time when they looked like they were getting any closer to getting him out. It was a matter of time before their intensity and accuracy dropped, and Pujara blazed away. The lengths began dropping, and Pujara rocked back to hit only the ninth six of his career.

Pujara now has three centuries in three Tests against Sri Lanka. After his last one, Pujara was asked which kind of century satisfied him more: his first against Sri Lanka, in 2015, which was scored on a seaming pitch and at a trying time in his career, or the second, amassed against an insipid attack on a flat track? Pujara said the first one obviously satisfied him more, but he loves his hundreds and doesn't look the other way when they arrive.

This one was somewhere in the middle. This was not quite the track Sri Lanka envisaged when they picked three spinners, but there was enough in it to keep the batsmen honest. India were under some pressure, especially when they lost KL Rahul - Pujara contributed to that run-out - and Virat Kohli in quick succession. Pujara and old ally Ajinkya Rahane, though, saw through that period expertly.