Pujara's narrow 'V' brings him success

Cheteshwar Pujara's technique was impeccable again BCCI

It was the start of the 20th over of India's innings, and Dasun Shanaka, as he had done on a couple of occasions previously, bowled a half-volley to Cheteshwar Pujara. Its line seemed wide enough for Pujara to be able to drive through the covers, but he turned his wrists over and placed it to the right of mid-off, who was stationed wide enough to be termed extra-cover.

Was it a deliberate attempt to hit the ball straighter, without opening up his bat-face and exposing the outside edge to Shanaka's outswing? Or was it just a late adjustment because the ball stopped on him thanks to the dampness of the surface?

Only Pujara will really know. But his innings was defined by drives through the vacant area where an orthodox mid-off would usually stand. Defined not so much by the drives themselves, but by how patiently he waited for balls he could safely play that shot against. In all, he would hit four fours through that region, and one through extra-cover.

All five of these fours would come off textbook half-volleys. He didn't look to drive anything on the up, or with an open face through square cover. R Sridhar, India's fielding coach, would define it perfectly at the end of the day's play.

"Look, it was quite simple," Sridhar said. "The moving ball, play as close to your body [as possible], try and keep the bat within your body line, and try to play straight. If you see Pujara's knock, what truly stands out is most of his shots were to the right of mid-off. He had a very narrow V. It was simple mantra and he did that and he was successful, batting on 47. It was probably one of the best 47 runs I've seen from Pujara over a period of last two or three years."

On another rain-interrupted day in which only 21 overs were possible, India lost two wickets, both to Shanaka. Both dismissals were the outcome of shots that went against the Pujara method of picking only the overpitched ball and driving through the narrow V. Both Ajinya Rahane and R Ashwin looked to drive balls that were full but not half-volleys, and to drive them through the covers. Rahane nicked behind, Ashwin sliced to backward point.

Pujara would probably - no, definitely - have left both those balls. In all, he left 49 of the 102 balls he faced. He defended 24. He ended the day batting on 47, out of an Indian total of 74 for 5, and could still potentially threaten the record for the highest share of a completed innings by a single batsman, set by Charles Bannerman in the very first Test match in 1877.

As soon as he played that wristy drive off Shanaka, Sri Lanka moved a fielder from square leg to plug the gap at orthodox mid-off. It was a small and painstakingly gained victory for Pujara, who before that ball had been batting on 18 off 62 balls.

It was a victory because, with the scoreboard reading 39 for 4, Sri Lanka had set a field for a bad ball, and acknowledged that their third seamer - a batting allrounder in less seam-friendly conditions - was liable to overpitch.

On this green Eden Gardens surface, with low-slung grey clouds hanging ominously overhead, good-length balls would rarely find themselves travelling through straight mid-off, so much were they swinging and seaming. Suranga Lakmal, their best bowler, had reeled off maiden after maiden while bowling to this field: four slips, two gullies, catching cover, wide mid-on (midwicket, really), fine leg.

Nic Pothas, Sri Lanka's interim coach, would later describe the conditions as being like England in April or May, while reckoning that Pujara had benefited from his County stint with Nottinghamshire.

The orthodox mid-off remained in place for Shanaka's next few overs. It allowed Pujara to pick up a single through the newly vacated square-leg region. It couldn't prevent another overpitched ball from disappearing between mid-off and cover.

Then the tall, hit-the-deck Lahiru Gamage arrived to try and test Pujara with some short-pitched balls. This necessitated an extra leg-side fielder, in this case a leg gully, which meant mid-off was vacated once more.

Having sent down a couple of short ones that Pujara evaded, Gamage bowled a half-volley. Pujara drove it for four, and leg gully moved back to mid-off. Pujara was showing his team-mates that runs could be had against these Sri Lankan bowlers, in these conditions, if you could wear them out for long enough.

Sri Lanka drove home the point, relaxing the pressure even more by bringing on the gentle medium-pace of their opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne. Pujara picked up two fours off long-hops in two overs from Karunaratne, and found himself on the verge of a superlative half-century.

Rain would keep him waiting for that milestone, and bring an early close to the second day with Sri Lanka still the happier side. They are yet to bat on this surface, however, against an Indian attack with three proper fast bowlers. When they do, they might need a Pujara of their own.