Cheteshwar Pujara © IANS
Cheteshwar Pujara paced his innings nicely © IANS (File Photo)

Cheteshwar Pujara is built to be an effective batsman, without frills, and he displayed it in his resolute hundred under pressure. Abhishek Mukherjee writes his observations on his unbeaten knock on Day Two of the third Test between India and Sri Lanka.

In the morning session on Day Two, the commentators observed a noticeable difference between the ways of executing the forward defence of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. The two looked to be determinedly holding off the threat of a persistent seam attack by Sri Lanka. Kohli looked solid in defence, stylish as he usually is. It was almost as if the ball would race to the boundary if he just extended his follow through. But Pujara looked jittery. He had a shorter stride forward, the ball struck the inside half of his bat, the bat turned in his hand, and the ball trickled ahead. The purpose was served, but the visual was clumsy, if not jarring. Towards the end of the day, though, Pujara was praised and not Kohli: the commentators now focussed on the technical fault of Kohli’s stroke as his head was falling over, unlike Pujara. LIVE CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Colombo, Day 3

Pujara’s method of playing strokes is effective, as they need not have any other quality. In all of his partnerships with other top-order batsmen, he was the unattractive one. Others cut, defended and drove the balls in a manner that looked easier on the eye, for Pujara’s strokes are unique to him. His drives never involve the typically smooth follow-through that has the top hand unmoved from the time batsmen prepare themselves for the stroke. His strokes in the ‘V’, or even square through the off side, involve a firm but flexible bottom hand that is open to a change in direction but is invariably successful in keeping the ball along the ground. His pull strokes are also typically ugly, but they often keep the ball on the ground.

When the fresh SSC pitch and a wily Dhammika Prasad threatened India’s top order on Day One and the early half of the Day Two, Pujara employed the old-school survival techniques of leaving the ball outside off and employing his bat only if forced to play at deliveries. He knew his position in relation with the stumps well, and the bat would never go beyond a threshold limit outside his body. His method of dealing with the deceptive variations of Pasad’s inswingers and outswingers was simple: he gave himself room to cover the inswingers, to avoid getting bowled, and if the ball bowled on the same length shaped away from him, he would not chase it. Most of his dot balls, 65, were against the other seamer Nuwan Pradeep, suggesting the bowler did not make Pujara play enough. But even against Prasad, he played 36 dots, and hit only one boundary. LIVE CRICKET UPDATES: India vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Colombo, Day 3

Pujara was at a phase on 31 for 23 balls. While it can make the best of batsmen anxious, Pujara waited for a suitable moment up up his tempo. He was comfortable off the spinners, using his feet well to get to the pitch of the ball, and judging the length well to prepare himself for a defence or a cut or a pull. When Tharindu Kaushal bowled his first three balls of the match, he deposited the bowler in the arc between point and third man, and closed in on his fifty. He, then, set about milking the spinners, to make up for the dour resistance against the quicks.

It was only when he was in the mid 70s that he earned enough confidence to hit the fast bowlers. If he found the ball loose — and deep in the day the loose ones either too full or too short, were supposed to arrive more frequently — he would latch on to it. These shots were square drives, cuts and pulls. At a point towards the end of the day, fielders were positioned deep in the leg side, and Pujara was enticed to hook. He took on the challenge, but safely, all along the ground. READ: Cheteshwar Pujara’s century could push Rohit Sharma out

But only once he decided to go ahead with a full blooded, lofted hook. Mathews was the bowler, the Sri Lankan unit was tired of the irritating eighth wicket stand between Pujara and Amit Mishra. A tumbling Pradeep, at fine leg, messed the opportunity to catch him out, with the ball bursting through him as he failed to be steady. This was long after he had scored his century, his seventh, by coming down the track and stroking the ball off Rangana Herath to mid-off and scampering a single.

A hard-working innings it was, and it must be pleasing to see the not-out sign at the end of a hard fought day. Pujara is built to resist the best of attacks without his equilibrium broken; even when he chatted with Deep Dasgupta to talk about his knock, he was joyful without being overly excited. When he was asked about his slow strike-rate in comparison with some of the other batsmen, he only said that his carer strike-rate was decent, and that he knows how to make up for a slow start. READ: Cheteshwar Pujara faces big challenge ahead of India vs Sri Lanka 3rd Test at Colombo

He also said that the biggest gain from his recent India A outing was the faith of coach Rahul Dravid. It helped him believe in his method, and churn out this century against many odds. His temperament is his biggest strength; all his effectiveness is built on it.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)