Cheered on by his passionate but impassive father and his much more demonstrative wife, Cheteshwar Pujara scored an emotional century in the debut Test for his home ground of Rajkot. M Vijay complemented him with a more temperate defensive display of 126 off 301 balls to take India closer to safety after they had conceded 537 in five sessions on a pitch expected to become difficult as the game progressed. The 209-run partnership between Vijay and Pujara made them the most prolific duo for India since the start of 2010.
The pitch didn’t deteriorate as much as expected, but to look at scores of 537 and 319 for 4 and conclude that it was a featherbed that produced boring cricket will be a disservice to the batsmen and bowlers who showed a lot of discipline and persistence. There was turn on offer but not variable, and there was a bare patch on a good length for seamers to work with. While for most periods of the day the England’s bowlers kept the batsmen honest without necessarily threatening them, they will be disappointed the quicks failed to generate reverse and the spinners got cut and pulled regularly.
There was always something to work with, but whenever the bowlers got it right, Vijay and Pujara, who came together when Gautam Gambhir’s feet got him into a messy tangle to the seventh ball of the day, worked hard to thwart them. Especially while having to go through almost scoreless periods against the seam of Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad. In the first session Woakes tested them with a five-over spell of six runs and three body blows for Pujara. In the second session Broad went 5-4-1-0, targeting that bare patch just short of a driving length. In the final session Broad and Ben Stokes asked questions with the new ball.
During the Woakes spell in the morning, 14 runs came in 10 overs. While Broad charged in mid-afternoon, 10 overs yielded 18 runs and a chance shelled by debutant by Haseeb Hameed at short cover. Unlike Pujara, Vijay had driven on the up to a ball that landed in that dry patch, and was reprieved on 66. India then welcomed DRS when Pujara successfully reviewed an lbw call when on 86, with extra bounce helping overturn the on-field decision.
While England didn’t give the batsmen much to work with, the batsmen were good enough to recognise spells of play they could exploit. Scoring happened in spurts. Pujara came out and attacked Moeen Ali – out twice to the offspinner in 53 balls before this Test, he used his feet to disrupt his length. India had added 41 in nine overs to their overnight 63 in this period as Pujara raced away to 25 off 29.
Then came Woakes. He didn’t just bowl short at Pujara, he bowled an excellent line, straight at his lid. Pujara, committing to the front foot almost every delivery, kept taking his eye off the ball while trying to sway. To his credit, Pujara never threw his hands up in self-defence, which would have brought the glove or the edge into play. Arvind Pujara, his father who was a wicketkeeper for Saurashtra, watched on without emotion. Puja, his wife, looked concerned.