Undermining the Value of Defense
At the end of the second day’s play at the Adelaide Oval, the odds are stacked in India’s favour despite their early hiccups at the start of the first day’s play. Yet India’s slight advantage was not created by India’s bold plans but rather by a rather defensive player that team India have not always trusted.
It is rather interesting because on the one hand, the Indian team think tank talks about learning from their past mistakes in South Africa and in England and of having a solid foundation going into the Test series down under. However, on the other hand, if the first two days are any indication, it is very likely that team India’s challenges from the previous two overseas tours will persist because their top batsmen continue to flirt with danger, almost causing India damage early in the series.
At a time like this, Cheteshwar Pujara stood silent and rock solid even as mayhem ensued all around him. To many, a defensive line is often considered a negative position. It perhaps does not fit in with the Indian captain Virat Kohli’s plan of being aggressive in your face, taking no prisoners and going all out. However, Kohli the batsman has come a long way not simply on being flamboyant alone but also, rather learning to pace himself and his innings, and adapting to situations. It is surprising, therefore, in that context, that Pujara is not always valued high enough by his own captain and team who have dared to drop him on previous tours.
Most teams, in any format of the sport, don’t win simply because they play offense. A good defense is just as important as any football team would attest.
In a team where batsmen are susceptible to the misleading wide and rising ball, having a Pujara and a Rahane plays the role of the balancing act, particularly on different terrains of overseas tours. Although Pujara will be the first admit that he has not always done his own game justice, the perseverance is evident in spending the summer in England while his contemporaries played the Indian Premier League. Amongst the few silent nemesis in world cricket, Pujara’s numbers, though skewed in home games, is critical to understand that he is as much on a learning curve as is the rest of the team and also, that overseas challenges are a ball game India must contend with as a team. Context is as important as performance in numbers as is consistency in team selection.
For all of India’s belligerent plans, which would explain the inclusion of someone like Rohit Sharma, India had to ultimately rely on Pujara’s defensive tactics to spend time at the crease, negotiate the tricky period of shielding the lower order while helping himself to a worthwhile sixteenth Test century but more importantly, getting India to a position of respectability from which to then look to put the equally vulnerable Australian batting line up under pressure.
Often enough it is not just the vociferous batting performances of a free scoring Kohli but also, the defensive, won’t-give-my-wicket-away mindset of a true Test cricketer like an underrated Pujara that is the making of a great Test match story. It is kudos to Pujara for keeping up his own persevering, patient game despite his own fluctuating fortunes with the team’s think tank and not get carried away with this mindset of going all out unlike some of the more ‘modern’ batsmen only to return sheepishly empty-handed.