Virat Kohli's second innings in this Test was an impressive display of putting aside the pride of a dominant batsman. His control percentage was 87, but this was Kohli's slowest innings of 30 or above. He was determined to bat long; that meant taking no risks against some pretty good bowling. With India ahead in the game, that spell didn't carry the apparent intensity, but the bowling was testing and the pitch had enough to keep the bowlers interested. Eventually, even Kohli made a mistake against Nathan Lyon, playing a forward-defensive and leaving himself prone to the ball exploding from the rough and taking the inside edge. This was a slight misjudgment of length, which meant he couldn't smother the turn; if you couldn't do that on this pitch, it became perilous.
Lyon ended the innings with six wickets. He is now the second-most successful spinner against India, with a better average and strike rate than the leader, Muttiah Muralitharan. Yet, India can be satisfied with their work against Lyon in the second innings. In conditions tailormade for his overspin, Lyon had to bowl 42 overs for his six wickets. It was thanks largely to his fascinating contest with Cheteshwar Pujara, who came up with an interesting method of negating the dangerous rough on a good length just outside the right-hand batsman's off stump.
On more than one occasion in England, India found themselves in a sticky situation with Moeen Ali and the same sort of rough. England didn't have to contend with it that much because they had a lot of left-hand batsmen facing India's offspinner R Ashwin. The case was something similar here. Lyon is an even more dangerous bowler than Moeen if you give him a spot outside off. Pujara doesn't play the sweep, which is anyway a dangerous shot on pitches with extra bounce. He began to negate the threat by stepping out of the crease, but as Lyon adjusted the length, making the batsman search for the ball, Pujara just began to kick it away.
This was a smart strategy, given the amount of turn and bounce available, which made getting an lbw decision unlikely even if he didn't play shots. This was a ploy designed to deny Lyon even a sniff at the bat-pad catch. Sometimes he pretended to play, with the bat hidden behind the pad, but the ball hardly ever refused to turn, which could have threatened his outside edge. On the third evening, Lyon missed out on a trick by not getting a silly point or silly mid-off in to prevent him from doing that.
"You've got to clearly understand that in that position your role is more than just to take catches," Tony Greig once told ESPNcricinfo. "You're changing the way the batsman plays, and that's something that I don't think is done enough. If you're up against any of the top players and you let them play the way they're comfortable playing, then you're asking for trouble."
And Pujara is a top player who loves to leave the crease, often just to pick up a single or to defend, and most importantly to shorten the length of a spinner for future runs. Cricviz data corroborates that. He steps out to 17% of the balls he faces from spin, averaging 315 when he does so. In this Test, runs were hardly the consideration when he left the crease.
On 11 occasions in this Test, Pujara stepped out and padded up to Lyon - he was the only batsman to do so. In all, he padded up 14 times to Lyon, according to ESPNcricinfo's logs, but that doesn't include the large number of times he just pretended to play. He left the crease 59 times in all. In both his innings put together, Pujara inside-edged Lyon only seven times, that being his biggest threat, with lbws all but ruled out and not enough natural variation in the pitch for him to threaten the outside edge.
Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane were caught in a similar situation in the first innings, but their response was to play aerial shots. A six each for them was not enough to hit Lyon off his length. He got Rohit twice, Rahane once, and the pressure he created contributed to the loose shot Rahane played against Josh Hazlewood to get out in the first innings. By contrast, Pujara was at the top of his game against Lyon.
The offshoot of this was the back-foot runs Pujara took off Lyon. Always ready to leave the crease or press forward, Pujara was quick to pick the flatter trajectory and go back to cash in. This was his reward for precise forward movements. To his credit, Lyon stuck at it, trying to pitch it slightly fuller or wider to try to break past Pujara's pad. When he eventually did so, with some extra turn and bounce, Lyon didn't even realise he had got Pujara out. Had the umpire not given Pujara out then, Lyon said he wouldn't even have reviewed it.
"My idea was to just keep bowling my offspin," Lyon said of the contest. "That is what works here in Australia. It was a ploy he used to counter me. Now I have to come up with mine."
Pujara ended up as the top-scorer in both innings, faced the most balls he ever has in an overseas Test, and stands on the brink of having fashioned a rare away win. Round two of Lyon v Pujara can hardly come soon enough.