Updated: January 21, 2021 9:19:38 am
When Cheteshwar Pujara had walked in to bat at the Gabba on the final day of the 4th Test, India had just lost Rohit Sharma in the early stages of what had seemed headed to be at best a grueling day and at worst a day of humiliation. Rain, forecast for the day, seemed to be India’s only hope.
By the time he departed, felled only by umpire’s call, the impossible had been achieved — India were in a position to go for the kill. Australia, dazed by the resilience of Pujara and the counter-attack from the other end, had 99 runs to defend in more than an hour, and it was them who were praying for rain.
In the middle, there had been blows. One to the helmet, which sent Pujara’s helmet visor flying. One that jammed his finger on the bat handle — he dropped his bat and hopped in his crease. One that struck him on the chest. But he stood tall amidst the entire short ball barrage. He kept dropping his wrists even as some jagged back into him.
Even as at the other end, Shubman Gill (91 off 146) and Rishabh Pant (89 off 138 balls) pulled the short ones, living and dying by the sword, Pujara kept taking the blows. When his half-century came, off 196 balls, the slowest half-century of his career, the win was on the horizon. The Sydney Test had witnessed Pujara score back-to-back 50s off 174 and 170 balls to help India keep the series alive. Here, he did one better.
The frustration was visible in the Australian team, and in the commentary box. “I reckon rough Pujara up. He’s in his zone, he’s in his rhythm here. Upset him, try and rip the helmet off. Give him some short stuff.” Shane Warne said on air.
The finishing touches might have been provided by ‘young India’ in the final hour of the Test, but it was Pujara’s defiance for over six hours before that which set up what was one of India’s most glorious wins.
Cheteshwar Pujara was hit on the body or the helmet 14 times across the four match series – that is a record for body blows received in a single series by a batsman since such things were recorded in 2006. #AUSvIND
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) January 19, 2021
The technique was almost something like Muhammad Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’, tiring out the opponent by taking blows and then launching a surprise counter-attack. Only, on Day 5 at the Gabba, all the body blows were being taken by Pujara while the attack happened at the other end.
“The conversation between Pujara and me was that he would bat normal, and I would take it on. It was all about intent. Credit to Pujara, the way he handled the pressure was magnificent,” skipper Ajinkya Rahane said after the day’s play.
When Rahane fell, India were still 162 runs away from what seemed like an improbable win, but they still sent in Rishabh Pant — signaling their intent to go for the outright win — because Pujara seemed like nothing could move him.
When something was finally successful in moving him, it was an umpire’s call that could have gone either way. LBW for 56 off 211 balls. Only the third highest score in India’s 329/7, but the most number of balls faced in the innings.
Overcome with emotion and filled with pride. The character & skill shown by the entire squad has been commendable. Moments like these make the countless hours of toil and practice truly worth it.
— cheteshwar pujara (@cheteshwar1) January 19, 2021
“Whatever I say about him will be very, very less. He put his body on the line for Indian cricket, for the Indian cricket team. He took blows on gloves, body, helmet but he didn’t deter him,” was how Pujara’s performance was described by Sunil Gavaskar, as India battled all odds to win the series 2-1 and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
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