By Bharath Ramaraj
After the disappointing performance in the One-Day International series (ODI) against South Africa, India looked like a side that was browbeaten and ripe to be whitewashed in the Test series. However, from India’s perspective, the batsmen have met fire with fire in the Test series and given a fitting riposte to South African pacers. If it was Virat Kohli who painted the Wanderers ground with his magnificence on the first day’s play, then Cheteshwar Pujara wasn’t to be left behind, as he showcased his class on the third day with a sublime hundred. It was a very special knock from Pujara as it was first hundred away from home, and that too just in his second away Test series.
Pujara is one of the batsman who sticks to the old adage of playing each ball on its merit. At Wanderers, with a gait that was brisk to the crease, he came in at the fall of Shikhar Dhawan‘s wicket. He waited, waited and still waited for the South African pacers to bowl to his strengths and when a loose ball came on offer, he made the most of it by dispatching it to the boundary with a precise measure of timing and placement. To anything that was pitched short and wide, Pujara rocked back into his crease, and mercilessly crashed them through the covers. His exquisite trademark flicks, and by standing on his toes, he played some fine back-foot punches, which must have given great heart to the Indian think-tank. The South African pace quartet tested his patience by even bowling on a fourth stump channel. However, Pujara was equal to the task and came out as a true winner in what turned out to be a game of chess. Just like Kohli, his weight transfer on a cracked up surface was a delight to watch. His judgment outside the off-stump against the quickies also was top notch.
The way he handled the subtle seam movement of Vernon Philander, the pace and late swing of Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis’s ploy to bowl well outside the off-stump to play on a batsman’s patience would be reverberated by generations of Indian fans to come. Whenever legspinner Imran Tahir came round the wicket to Pujara, just to disrupt his composure, Pujara held his own. And everytime he received a freebie from Tahir, he hammered them through the midwicket region.
In 2010-11, Pujara just like many sub-continental batsmen had found the pace and bounce in South Africa on offer tough to handle. But it was only a matter of time for someone like Pujara to turn it around and essay a century in the Rainbow Nation.
There was a time in the 1990s, when only Sachin Tendulkar and to some extent Rahul Dravid seemed to be the batsmen who could stand up to the fierce South African pace-battery in their own backyard. For any Indian fan, It would be heartening to see young guns like Kohli and Pujara being able to counter alien conditions so early in their respective careers.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
South Africa vs India — Live on Ten Cricket
Also on cricketcountry.com