By John Cheeran
India 250/9. Day One. Adelaide.
A weak side can become a stronger if it bends down and accepts all the chances that come its way and on Thursday, on a hot day at Adelaide Oval, Australia did just that against the world’s No.1 team, an India led by Virat Kohli.
Kohli did the right thing after winning the toss by deciding to bat. But against the disciplined, if not disconcerting, Australian fast bowling attack the Indian top order repeated its old indiscretion by handing over catches in the slip and gully region. The ball moving away from the right-handed batsman did the trick for Australia.
Openers Murali Vijay and K L Rahul have proved that their fortune and misfortune of others are not good enough for them to resuscitate their floundering careers. Both Rahul and Vijay, by the strange coming together of circumstances, have been given enough chances to redeem themselves and unless they make amends in the second innings, they would have to walk home.
This Australian attack demanded patience from irreverent stroke makers, including Kohli, although skipper was out to a brilliant diving catch by Khawja Usman. But, then, patience is the hallmark of the unheralded Cheteswar Pujara and the Gandhian temperament of the boy from Rajkot held the Indian innings at one end to give its the loincloth of 250 runs, on a day which could be eventually turn out to the series defining. In a nut shell, India opened its campaign to win their first ever Test series Down Under like a team incapable of doing that, a throwback to the doddering nineties.
Well, this is only the first day of the four-Test series, and India has shown the resilience to hit back quite often in the past. But you cannot expect bowlers to work magic away from home but only work hard. There would be hope for India the way off-spinner Nathan Lyon bowled on the first day, curbing stroke play, and inducing mistakes.
To be a Pujara in today’s India is a thankless task, often overlooked in the razzmatazz of IPL and T20, until its frontline bullies come cropper against decent and disciplined bowling attack. In fact Pujara does not have any extraordinary skills over which you can drool over. He is a watchful customer, who values his wicket and understands the rudiments of Test cricket. Otherwise he is like you and me. Eking out an existence amidst the billionaire boys. Even late in the afternoon, when Pat Cummins bounded in and hurled balls that jumped at his throat, he had his focus intact to move away from the line at that right moment.
Batting with Ashwin, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami Pujara found the vacant regions to keep the strike with him as much as possible to prolong the Indian innings. His back foot play found ample expression behind the wicket, cutting out expansive strokes, stabilizing the innings in the process. His 16th Test century (off 231 balls), the first in Australia, crafted in the heat of adversity reaffirmed one’s faith in basic virtues in life as well as in sport.
Pujara’s dismissal, run out for 123, encapsulated the day’s cricket. Both his century, and how the Aussies saw his back, are testimonies to untiring hard work. When Pujara was out for 123, he had almost scored half of India’s runs at 250/9. A commendable effort, by any measure.
But the innings of importance came from Rohit Sharma and the importance lay not in the fact that how many runs he scored but how many he could have if he calibrated his batting to the demanding conditions. Even the colour of his clothing, the colour of the ball and the bounce of the track did not make him think. He reacted like a cornered boxer against the bowlers, sensing his chance in every delivery.
How does India now bounce back? Kohli will have to emulate the Aussies, not in vacuous aggression but in ensuring that basics are adhered to by the bowlers and turn the energy tap on the field. Both tasks, Kohli is eminently capable of, but all we have to do is wait, much as the cricketers have to on the field for Australians to make mistakes.