Pujara comes to Ashwin’s defence after lacklustre outing
R Ashwin bowled 35 overs for 1 wicket and conceded 78 runs (Getty Images)

Cheteshwar Pujara has defended teammate R Ashwin after the offspinner’s dull performance with the ball on Day 3 of the fourth Test against England at Southampton. On a surface where Moeen Ali grabbed 5/63 in the first innings, Ashwin bowled 35 overs for one wicket, conceding 78 runs as England went on to take a 233-run lead over India.

“I don’t think he had a bad day. He didn’t get too many wickets but kept on bowling in the right areas. Sometimes as a bowler you do have such days when you are bowling but you might not end up picking too many wickets,” Pujara said during the media briefing at the end of play.

“Someone like him, he is a clever bowler, and he has done really well for us throughout the domestic season as well as overseas. So, I don’t think he has bowled badly at all.

Former captain captain Michael Vaughan felt that India were let down by the offspinner’s performance. Pujara however, pointed out that the nature of the surface was pivotal in Ashwin not being as effective as he was in the first Test at Edgbaston where he picked up a match haul of 7/121.

“The pitch has slowed down a lot and that could be the reason some of his balls (deliveries) didn’t go through as much he might have wanted. It is their team combination. I don’t think it matters too much, but being an offspinner, Ashwin bowls well to left-handers. I don’t think it makes a huge difference,” India’s first-innings centurion said.

With lead touching 250, situation seems to be favouring England to win the match and subsequently seal the series. On a turning fourth innings surface with the Moeen Ali threat looming large, Indian batsmen will have to play out of their skin to chase down whatever is given them. England still have two wickets remaining, and with Sam Curran out there, one cannot rule out the possibility of India chasing an even stiffer target.

Pujara however, feels the wicket has gotten easier to bat on, which gives him and the rest of the Indian batsmen the confidence needed to bat on Sunday.

“I don’t think it was a tough day for us, in the sense, looking at the pitch it has slowed down a bit,” Pujara said. “Looks like it is slightly easier to bat. And we have got lot of experience playing in such conditions back home. We started off well in the first innings but lost too many wickets in the middle phase which, if we had batted well, we could have got 100 or 150 runs lead.

“But that is something in the past. All the batsmen, they have realised what they need to do and in the second innings we will put up a good show after bowling them out early tomorrow,” Pujara said of the game situation.”
What Pujara is referring to is India’s middle order collapse in the first innings that saw them lose four wickets for 14 runs, to Ali, who turned back the clock to 2014. Weighing in on the performance, Pujara gave Ali credit, but admitted that India could have fared better against the allrounder.

“When he bowled in the first innings the wicket was a little quicker. Obviously, some of our batsmen could have batted well against him, but he is a good bowler,” Pujara said.

“Obviously I am not trying to take any credit away from how he bowled. But we still should have batted better against him. I think in the second innings our batsmen will have a better game plan against Moeen.

And despite the collapse, Pujara was what kept India going. He rescued his team and put India in the lead with crucial partnerships with No. 10 Ishant Sharma and No. 11 Jasprit Bumrah, adding 78 runs for the final two wickets. In the process, he racked up his 15th Test century and his first outside Asia since 2013.

“The most important thing was scoring some runs in the last Test match. I had been batting well throughout the season although I didn’t get too many runs in county cricket. But I was playing on some challenging wickets. Sometimes even if everything is correct you do get out,” Pujara said.

“I just accepted that fact and kept working on my game. I don’t think there was anything wrong with my technique or my game. So I just trusted it and it paid off in the last Test match and when I got fifty I knew that I was up for a big one. I was batting well, so I just kept on batting, and things worked well for me in this innings.”