What was it about the pitch in Pune that invoked a radical response from the commentators? Shane Warne called it a day-five pitch and while that might be a slight exaggeration, it was indeed a pitch that did not look like a first-day track of a Test match.
There were small cracks running all through the surface (smaller cracks tend to open up faster than the big blocks), the topsoil was so loose that the first time it met the spikes underneath the players' shoes, it started peeling off, and the surface felt abrasive on the touch. It's imperative to dispel the notion that the Indian team would have asked for such a pitch, for a slightly underprepared track evens the playing field and, if anything, is likely to bring Australia closer.
From a batsman's perspective once the threat in the pitch is identified, it's critical to formulate a plan to counter it. While the focus was on either David Warner or Steven Smith showing the way to counter India's spin, it was the 20-year-old southpaw Matt Renshaw who stitched an innings of class and substance.
Defence off the front foot
Renshaw is tall and he used his height to great effect in Pune. His trigger movement is to load the left leg, which in turn allows him to push forward with a really long stride. The length of his stride took him very close to the regular operating length for the Indian spinners and helped him smother the spin on many occasions. The moment the right-arm offspinner goes round the stumps or the left-arm spinner goes over the stumps, most left-handers start standing on the off stump in order to plant the front foot outside off to minimise the chances of getting hit in front of the stumps. But Renshaw didn't need such an adjustment because of his long forward stride and the fact that he kept his bat in front of the pad and not besides it. It's impossible to survive and thrive in India without a solid defensive game against spin and without the trust in that game. Renshaw displayed both.
Defence off the back foot
Once he started planting his long forward stride, it was only natural for the Indian spinners to pull back the length. Renshaw's judgement when it came to picking the length was mostly accurate and he was happy to present the dead bat right under his eyes to anything that he couldn't reach out to, even with his long front-foot stride.
64.4 - Reading the bowler well
The knowledge of where the off stump is is considered to be the first chapter in an opener's book but, mostly, it's mentioned with regards to facing the quicker bowlers. Seldom do we talk about the importance of allowing the ball to go to the wicketkeeper while facing spinners, but it is equally important. You will be able to successfully leave a spinner's delivery if you have read both the line and the spin accurately, and that's why the leave to R Ashwin highlighted an important aspect of Renshaw's play. He wasn't relying on the pitch to decipher what the Indian spinners were doing.
Use of the feet
Playing on a turning pitch isn't only about defending or leaving the good balls but equally also about hitting boundaries and rotating the strike. One must nominate the shots and the area that one prefers to target, and follow it up with conviction. Renshaw's long limbs provide him the extra reach and he accentuated that by using his feet often. While using your feet against spin on a raging turner isn't always advisable, Renshaw showed that it could still be done if you reach to the pitch of the ball and then play with the spin. He went over the midwicket region a few times against Ravindra Jadeja and through the covers against Jayant Yadav.
It's widely believed that you inverse the batting technique while playing against spinners on dusty subcontinental pitches: play with a horizontal bat off the front foot and use the vertical bat while playing on the back foot to account for the lack of bounce. While Renshaw proved that, like most beliefs, this could also be challenged, he did employ one sweep shot against Jadeja. The standout feature of the shot was his awareness of the field, for Virat Kohli had a deep midwicket fielder for his favorite shot and the fielder at long-leg was only halfway back, and that provided a window of opportunity to accumulate another boundary.
Forget what happened on the last ball
The pitch in Pune is the kind that requires technique, temperament and luck in great amounts to succeed. There will always be unplayable balls that will turn, bounce and beat the bat by a foot or more. It's almost embarrassing to be beaten by such a distance and, on occasion, a few times in a row. Also, in spite of your best efforts, you could misread the length once in a while, too. The key to succeed is to delete the data acquired on such deliveries, for it is impossible to tailor your response assuming that every ball is going to behave the same way. Renshaw showed immense maturity in not allowing the unplayable deliveries clutter his mind and response, and that shows he belongs at this level.