By Khurram Habib
Ahmedabad, March 2 (IANS) Back in 2019 when Cheteshwar Pujara arrived in India after frustrating Aussie bowlers and playing the lead, man-of-the-series role in India’s first-ever Test series win in Australia, he got stuck against a little-known left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate of Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy final.
Pujara, representing Saurashtra, was dismissed for 1 and 0 after playing a total of 16 balls across two innings in that final in Nagpur.
Cut to 2021, and the story remains the same. Pujara played some gritty knocks in the last two Tests in Australia in Sydney and Brisbane, helping India draw and win the Tests respectively less than two months ago.
But on arrival from Australia, he has got stuck again against left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who has dismissed him three out of five times in the ongoing India-England series.
“With Cheteshwar, he is using his feet, stretching, everything is okay. But many times, he has been playing half-cock. When he is in doubt, he doesn’t stretch (full) against left-arm spinner. That is where he is stuck with lbw or is caught in slips,” said former India batsman Anshuman Gaekwad, who also served as India chief selector and coach, while speaking to IANS.
Leach has had him caught in slips by Ben Stokes twice and leg-before the wicket once. After his 73 in the first innings of the first Test, he has aggregated 43 across the last four innings with Leach getting him thrice and once he has fallen run out. England have ensured that they throttled his run-scoring with his strike rate in the last four innings just 34.95.
This is exactly what Vidarbha thought two years ago when they got him out twice cheaply.
Although Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal as well as spinner Aditya Sarwate don’t want to discuss the team strategy in detail they do say that the idea was to restrict him inside the crease.
“We all know he has got great footwork and likes to cut out the spin (by stepping out). He doesn’t like to play from the crease. So we thought of restricting his singles, not allowing him to go off-strike. We played with the field setting. Bowled straighter lines so that he doesn’t get singles and plays from crease. Aditya varied his speed well like we had planned. He bowled extremely well making sure it was not easy for Pujara to step out,” Fazal told IANS.
The Nagpur track was dry just as the ones in the last two Tests were which helped Sarwate and Leach to restrict his scoring.
“The wicket was dry. That also played a role. If he is (stuck in) crease then you get opportunity to turn the ball. Straighter one is also beneficial,” added Fazal.
Sarwate said that the idea was not to let Pujara settle and disallow him from rotating strike and have him stuck inside the crease.
“I had seen him and he likes to step out and rotate strike. My plan was to not let him step out. The idea was to bowl and hit the right areas, so that he gets stuck in his crease and isn’t able to rotate strike. When he is able to rotate strike, he settles down. So we thought we should bowl in the right areas so that he doesn’t settle,” recalled the Vidarbha left-arm spinner.
Leach himself said very little on Pujara’s dismissal except that he wants to continue doing it.
If the pitch for the fourth and final Test remains dry and powdery, Pujara could be in for a tough time again.