Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli
Cheteshwar Pujara (L) and Virat Kohli (AFP Photo)

When 2018 is finally done and dusted, and confined to Indian cricket’s history books, ‘intent’ will go down as word of the year.

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We first heard it in South Africa, and then repeatedly in England. Even so, the definitions were a little hazy. Is it about attacking even when your game isn’t suited to that particular mode of batting? What about bowling – is there a common definition for pacers and spinners? Whatever the real meaning of this word, as purported by the Indian team management, it was quite unclear and even confusing at times.

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Finally though, we understand what intent means. It has taken eight and a half overseas Tests but now whenever that word crops up in Indian cricket, there is a set template that we can refer to – day three in Adelaide.

The morning started with 59 runs in play. India conceded 44 in 10.4 overs. One way to look at it is that they gave away four runs per over in one hour of play, with lights on and bowling with the newish ball, to tail-enders again. This has been a raw nerve for even the best Test bowling attack to come out of India, and on most occasions this year, it has meant a loss over the next few days.

The other way to look at it is that they restricted Australia to 235, and managed to etch out a lead of 15 runs. It isn’t much, but when did you last see such an Indian bowling display in Australia with 250 runs on the board? Basically they were cleaning up the mess left by Indian batsmen in the first innings, and carving out a lead despite such a small total behind you, can only be defined as good bowling.

Of course, they did bowl shorter than they should have, most on day two and a little on day three as well. But the big change from the two days was there were more full deliveries on Saturday. It allowed the Australian tail to score quickly, but also brought out three wickets in 64 balls. Mostly, it helped wipe off the tail and allowed skipper Virat Kohli to exult in joy like only he can.

That – an improvement from the bowlers to get rid of the tail quickly and making better on whatever mistakes they have committed previously – qualifies as intent.

More than bowling though, from both sides, key to this Test lies in how well the batsmen are willing to adapt to the conditions on offer. The pitch might continue to look benign, yet it is anything but. The Australian batsmen knew this when they watched Cheteshwar Pujara bat. Maybe, just maybe, the Indian batsmen, reeling from their careless dismissals in the first innings, watched him bat and paid attention too.

Pujara’s century in the first innings might win him man-of-the-match award. More than being a worthy knock, it is a template on how to bat on this Adelaide wicket. Of course, like Rishabh Pant said, not everyone is Pujara. The basic ambition then is about curbing your natural instinct as long as possible.

Murali Vijay tried hard. He faced 52 balls, as compared to 21 in the first innings, before committing a false stroke. Vijay isn’t a flamboyant Test opener, yet he does have that scoring streak about him. It is tougher for more attacking batsmen perhaps – take the case of KL Rahul. This is one out-of-form batsman we are talking about, and it was good to see him making a humongous effort in the middle to overcome that bad patch.

Rahul left the ball well. He defended better. For a change he was middling the ball and India didn’t look in any trouble at 19/0 in 10 overs. Suddenly, two overs later, the score read 35/0 – Rahul had changed gears and gone mental against Pat Cummins. Finding the balance between defence and attack has been Rahul’s problem ever since his horizons broadened to limited-overs’ cricket. Not everyone can find that sweet zone to co-exist and alter your game accordingly between three formats.

Or, simply put, not everyone is Kohli. This reason is largely why he is the best in world cricket at present. It is a fine line, achieving that aforementioned balance, but Kohli walks that line with aplomb. Even so, we saw a different version of him today, one that was not dominating the bowling attack. He was content to play out 104 balls, and score only at a strike-rate of 32.7. At one stage, he was batting slower than Pujara.

In essence then, Kohli’s uncharacteristic knock provided the answer to this yearlong question – what does intent actually mean? It is about playing for time when the opposition shuts off all scoring chances. It is about respecting conditions and knowing the limitations within which you have to bat. It is about going on the back foot for once and even then asserting your aggression in a passive manner.

Most of all, in this first Test, it is about batting in a grinding Pujara-esque manner. And, the team that does it best over the next two days will win at the Adelaide Oval.