The significance of being Pujara

Rohit Mahajan

On Day 5 in Brisbane, Cheteshwar Pujara was playing for a draw — he was playing to save the game. He sealed one end. This allowed batsmen at the other end to play for a victory.

Cheteshwar Pujara took blows on his helmet, his body, his hands, his legs.

Bodyline, England’s tactic against Don Bradman’s Australians in the early 1930s, is steeped in infamy. Modern bodyline, due to the helmets and protective gear available, isn’t half as dangerous as it was in the 1930s, and the bowlers are no longer reviled for this tactic. But it seems that batsmen are getting hit more often than ever before. It’s very likely that due to the protective gear available to them, they are not as vigilant as they used to be, and maybe the bowlers are more vicious and accurate than ever before.

The Australians went Bodyline on Pujara yesterday, in an effort to make him raise his bat to protect his face or head, and thus fend the ball off it.

Pujara, however, took blow after blow on his body, but refused to let the rising ball to hit his bat and fly off it. He got hit 12 times, and he was sore in pain. He stayed there, playing a defensive Test game that is dying; this let the others at the other end go for their strokes.

Playing 35 overs

India had to make 324 runs for victory on Day 5, off a maximum 98 overs, weather permitting. Pujara’s gameplan was simple — to leave the balls that did not threaten his wicket, and to play defensively against those that did. He had been troubled by the excellent off-stump line by the Aussies through the series, especially from Pat Cummins. Four times previously in the series, Cummins had got Pujara, in seven innings. Cummins got Pujara the fifth time, too, yesterday, but not before the batsman had done his job — he fell in the final session, having played 211 balls, having ensured that there would be no collapse at his end.

His mandate was to play for a draw at one end — he played out 35 overs out of 98 available yesterday, for 56 runs. By gluing himself to the wicket through the day, he ensured that India could not lose. He ensured, too, that the Australian pace bowlers were tired and frustrated. Mitchell Starc, the big enforcer who torments batsmen, had been bludgeoned by the brilliant Shubman Gill. By taking blow after blow, and coming right back to play, Pujara made sure all the Aussie pacemen were sick and tired of bowling.

Cummins bowled 162 overs in the series, an average of more than 20 overs per innings. Hazlewood bowled 144 and Starc 137 — that’s a lot of workload for fast bowlers. In the last session of this riveting series, in their own favourite ground and with a captain desperate for wickets, the big Aussies pace bowlers failed to deliver. India’s young attacking cricketers deserve credit for what they achieved — but the fans owe big thanks also to the immovable man who made victory possible by playing out 211 balls on a Day 5 Gabba wicket.

928 Balls faced by Cheteswhar Pujara in the series, most by a batsman from either side

1258 Balls faced by Pujara when India toured Australia in 2018-19, when also they won 2-1. Over the last two tours, he has faced 2186 balls in Australia

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