Virat Kohli smiled, walked up to Cheteshwar Pujara and asked him to raise the bat. Pujara smiled back but couldn’t gather himself to follow his captain’s suggestion. Though he did just about raise his hand to the dressing room and the crowd once he had opened his account off the 54th ball of his innings.
“Yes, Virat was asking me to raise the bat,” said Pujara as he left the press conference hall where he was asked more questions about his dot balls than the ones off which runs were scored.
While Pujara was busy dealing with the five-pronged pace attack and crawling towards achieving the ‘longest on zero’ Test record, he wouldn’t have known that the world was following his dot balls. He was trending. If only he had access to Twitter, or if someone had put it on the giant screen at the Wanderers, maybe Pujara would have raised his bat.
It was a stonewalling performance that someone like Rahul Dravid would have been proud of. ‘The Wall’ held the previous record of being the slowest off the mark. Dravid had got off the mark once at the MCG after 41 dot balls, and had acknowledged it by raising his bat.
Since the time India opted to bat, fears were expressed about their chances against the South African pacers. Overnight rain and overcast conditions help pacers but when the ball is in Philander’s hand, it is almost an unfair and one-sided contest. Bat has no chance since the ball would swing, rise and move. The man is known to move the ball at will, as if it was on a string that he controlled.
Philander’s first spell had 7 maidens and just one wicket. Pujara had played four of those maidens and overall faced 30 balls from him in that first spell. He ensured that the South African new ball bowler, who was the Man of the Match under similar conditions at Newlands in the first Test, didn’t run through India’s top order.
Like most top bowlers, Pujara has a plan in dealing with Philander-kind of bowlers, who can swing the ball in the air and move it both ways. He stands outside the crease and keeps the bat near the body. The bat stays close to the pad and he always keeps an eye on the ball that comes in. The ones that moved away miss the bat. There would be several play-and-misses but the edge would be missing. It wasn’t an easy batting routine but Pujara was managing.
Speaking about the pitch, Pujara would say, “This is one of the toughest pitches I’ve played on. And as we saw, it was difficult to score some runs, especially in the first session. It was difficult to rotate strike. It has a lot of bounce, it has seam movement. And there is enough pace now. So we had to work hard to score runs.”
While Pujara was working hard, the crowd was having fun. They clapped for his 50 dot balls. On Twitter too, the funny guys were connecting the dots. “Pujara is like a person who walks into a bank without an Aadhaar number. Just can’t open his account.”
Pujara saw the lighter side of his long wait to score the first run. “Obviously, I wanted to get off the mark. I wasn’t seeing the number of balls I was facing, but yeah, sometimes when there is lot of noise you do notice it. Even if you are concentrating, sometimes you hear a voice from the crowd.”
Finally, when he did take a single, the captain wanted him to raise the bat. Later, as he walked out at lunch, R Ashwin walked from the dugout to give him a pat. Those who have faced the swinging, moving and rising ball, knew the importance of the 53-ball silence.