Poor Pujara, look at him, no IPL contract, a T20 strike rate of 109, nobody talking about his specific match-ups because, haha, the entire format is the match-up. But there he is, battling it out for the old ways, doing it for the little format. Let’s be patronising about all the things that he is really good at doing, which we worry are things that are dying, things that need to be taken up as a cause. Concentration or patience, or nurdles off the thighs that dribble apologetically to square leg, and we move another few seconds closer to our end but no closer to the meaning of life.
It is definitely a thing. Having gone unsold in every IPL auction since 2015, he was picked in 2021 by Chennai Super Kings and the room erupted in applause. That was very Test Batting Porn, especially because Pujara then didn’t play a single game all season.
This one probably might end up meaning a little bit more because Pujara was returning to the side, having been dropped for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka. And that was really the first time since the start of 2017 that he had been out of India’s plans. And though the selectors always sold the exclusion as a temporary one, for that series alone, Pujara’s record in the preceding three years, his age (34) and the frankly tiresome debate about his intent meant it felt more final.
But not being sold at the IPL this year was the start of his return. It allowed him to slip into county cricket and find, as he told the Indian Express, the rhythm for those big scores. Not hundreds, he said, but big hundreds, like two double-hundreds and an unbeaten 170 for Sussex. Time spent at the crease is Pujara’s oxygen. Runs will come, but are secondary.
There was, Kumar Sangakkara explained on air, a slight change in stance, a little more side-on than last year. But so much of this was Pujara as we’ve known him. The leave was well and truly present, including to a number of deliveries – mostly from Stuart Broad – that were shaping in. Quantitatively, it was not different to how much he has left in England across his last nine Tests – he left roughly 30 percent of the balls he faced.
There was intent in the running, if not always the speed to back it up. The pick of his few boundaries were the two back-foot punches off Broad and Ben Stokes, the shot where Pujara is perhaps at his most elegant. Besides that, everything else was present and correct: the play-and-misses, the soft hands to kill the edges, the wearing of a couple on the gloves – including one that required lengthy treatment for a cut finger.
Siraj had faced Bairstow’s onslaught in the morning, but he knows who he’d rather bowl to and it isn’t Pujara. “He doesn’t attack much and leaves a lot of balls. It can be irritating bowling to him in the nets as well.”