CHETESHWAR PUJARA'S HUNDRED IN 4TH TESTMATCH AT SOUTHAMPTON ONE OF THE FINEST INNINGS PLAYED BY AN INDIAN IN ENGLISH CONDITIONS
The great Titanic ship took off from the port of Southampton never to return is the fact by which many people know this place. However on 31st August 2018, a superlative cricket innings by an Indian batsman might as well change the way people think and remember about this place.
When Joe Root and Virat Kohli tossed the coin at the beginning of 4th Test match, none of them had any doubts what so ever of what to do if the toss is won. It was because the most important piece of land of those 22 yards looked brown in colour and absolutely banter for batting. However the belief was soon evaporated when England openers took the guard. Within an hour or so it was proved to be a good toss to loose for India as England batsmen were struggling to cope with the swing in the air and lateral deviation of the pitch. England’s inning was wrapped on day one and India began their chase same evening.
However on day-2, the things had not changed much, the pitch and English weather conditions were very conducive for seam bowling. And India too was finding it difficult to fare well on this pitch. But Cheteshwar Pujara showed the way as to how to deal with these extremely difficult conditions to bat. Known for his grit and determination, he put all of his qualities to use and played a patient knock early on which was accelerated in due course. When Virat Kohli got out, it was an alarming situation for India as the captain and the man in form had gone. Very soon India was reduced from 142 for 2 wickets to 195 for 8 wickets. Only one batsman was looking comfortable and was playing with authority and precision, i.e. Cheteshwar Pujara. He left alone all the out-swinging ball on and around off stump, played all in-swingers with straight bat and was not tempted to play it across. He never looked in hurry, and never looked like as if he had any issue with this pitch at all.
The one thing which stands out about this knock is the way Pujara has paced his inning. His strike rate never came down below 50 during the entire inning. It means he was scoring a run every other ball where it was hard to survive and where an aggressive player like Rishab Pant could not even open his account after playing 29 odd balls. Pujara, playing with the tail added almost 80 runs for the last 2 wickets and that helped India stay alive in this game. By the time the new ball was taken he had already reached the landmark of 100 (only one so far in this game). Later he played some amazing shots of which many IPL aspirants would be impressed to look at and some very successful ODI players would be proud of. This innings of Pujara also reminded me about his match winning knock of 145 against Srilanka in July 2017, where he was asked to open the inning on a seaming pitch in Galle in absence of regular openers and he carried the bat through.
Coming back to this Test match, when Indian inning got over at the total of 273 and when Pujara was proudly walking out with 132 (not out) shown against his name on the score board, the whole stadium offered him a standing ovation. It gave me goose bumps watching it live on my television set and could not resist myself getting up on my feet in joining all the cricket lovers of this nation and the whole Indian team standing in the balcony of the pavilion for a big round of applauds. I am sure there is no second opinion about the fact that, we all have witnessed a very very special hundred by the run machine called Cheteshwar Pujara.
After all there was resilience of a soldier, calmness and patience of a saint and extra ordinary skill of a cricketer was on exhibition in Southampton on 31st August.
By PRAKASH J BHATT
(Former Ranji Player and Captain of Saurashtra)