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Cheteshwar Pujara concedes dominant position lost, says Test evenly poised

India's No.3 says there are no regrets about adopting a caution-first strategy at the start of the day

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
India have let go of a dominating position thanks to the late collapse, which began with Virat Kohli's run-out, Cheteshwar Pujara said, but he believes they are still in with a good chance to post an imposing total in the first innings of the first Test.
India had seen through a tough interrogation from a persistent attack on a slightly slow and bouncy surface and had reached 188 for 3 with the new ball around the corner. That they were only 188 in nearly 80 overs tells you they were made to work hard to keep wickets in hand, but they were now in a position to set themselves up for a score in excess of 325 if they could bat the day out without too much further loss.
This was an especially commanding position because India have not lost a single Test in which Kohli has won the toss, which tells you the potency of their bowlers once there is a decent score on the board. They were now within a session or so of that decent score when Rahane called Kohli through for a quick single.
This time, though, Rahane had hit it just too well and too close to the mid-off fieldsman, Josh Hazlewood. The ball was so close to the fielder that Rahane would have struggled to make his ground even if he attempted to sacrifice himself for Kohli, who had looked set for his first international hundred of the year. Soon after the run-out, Rahane and Hanuma Vihari fell to the new ball, but R Ashwin and Wriddhiman added an unbeaten 27 for the seventh wickets to leave India evenly poised at 233 for 7 at the end of the day's play.
"I don't think you can have any such strategy where you just want to score in the first two sessions when the ball is swinging... Strategy-wise I don't think there is any regret how we batted today."
"Yes we were in a very good position, I would say," Pujara said of the events. "After losing couple of wickets, Virat, Ajinkya both, I think those were crucial wickets. But I still feel that we are just six down and Ash can bat, Wriddhi can bat. Even our lower order will try and contribute as many runs as possible. So we still have a very good chance of getting close to 275-300, and if our lower order bats well, you never know, we can get 350 also.
"So yes I mean there was a stage where we were in a dominating position but after losing Virat and Ajinkya they [Australia] have a little bit of an advantage. I still feel we are evenly placed in this Test match."
Pujara acknowledged it was hard work to get into that position, which featured a 68-run stand between himself and Kohli that spanned 31.3 tough overs. He would have liked to see India cash in on that platform as batting had started to look easier when he was the third man out.
"When you have a big partnership, if it is more than 50 runs or if it is close to 100 runs, it always sets up a platform for the other batsmen to put the team in a commanding position," Pujara said. "And that is what happened actually. When I had the partnership with Virat and then Ajinkya came in, both of them were cruising. There was a time when we were 190 for 3 so I felt that that was the position we wanted to be in.
"But this is what Test cricket is all about. When you lose a couple of wickets, the opposition has a bit of an advantage. But again if we score runs tomorrow morning, we will be in commanding position. So you have to just respect this format."
India had toughed it out for close to 80 overs but because Australia had managed to control the run rate, they were right back in the moment they got a wicket. Pujara was asked if they could have batted quicker, but he said the conditions and the bowling could have meant loss of too many wickets.
"We were in a very good position so I don't think you can have any such strategy where you just want to score in the first two sessions when the ball is swinging," Pujara said. "I just thought that if we had more wickets in hand, even when they took the second new ball, we would have got enough runs. Strategy-wise I don't think there is any regret how we batted today. I thought it was a great day of Test cricket. There is enough in it for the bowlers. You just have to respect it rather than just going after the bowlers and losing more wickets in the first two sessions and you end up getting bowled out in a day."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo