While all the attention on Day 1 of the Day and Night series' opener in Adelaide went to Virat Kohli, his innings and what could have been if not for that tragic run-out, there was another commendable performance by the 'New Wall' of India - Cheteshwar Pujara - which largely went unnoticed much like India's number 4 in the 2000s overshadowed the performances of the then number 3! But once again, Pujara showed why he is so valuable to the current Indian Test XI, especially when they play overseas. He did not go and get a big hundred but he did what he does best and has done on numerous occasions in the past - that is, play out the new ball, wear down the bowlers and protect India's middle order from facing the new pink cherry.
Pujara came out to bat in the very first over after the loose dismissal of Prithvi Shaw and was like a rock at one end countering everything the great Australian pace attack of Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc threw at him - all three with a splendid record with the Pink Ball. Pujara put together 32 for the second-wicket with Mayank Agarwal but more than the runs, it was the overs and time he played out that were significant.
Pujara defended with confidence but the standout feature of his innings in the first session, at least, was the way he was leaving the ball at length - drawing from his previous experience of batting in Australia where the high bounce makes this a safe and actually attacking tactic. It is attacking in the sense that it tires down the main opposition fast bowlers and forces them to bowl fuller thereby increasing the chances of a few loose deliveries and it also makes the opposition captain make changes and get the number 4 and 5 bowlers into play, again releasing the pressure on the batsmen.
Pujara left as many as 17 deliveries, with confidence, till the second-wicket partnership was broken in the 19th over. By that time, the Pujara-Agarwal pair had already negotiated 108 precious deliveries with the new ball - ie 18 overs with the new Pink Ball. Pujara had negotiated the first session - the most difficult and challenging in an overseas Test match with aplomb. He remained unbeaten on just 17 but more crucially for India, battled it out for two hours and faced 88 deliveries without taking any risk.
India's Number 3 continued in the same vein in the second session too and put together, what could have been, if not for the late loss of wickets, a potentially match-changing partnership. Pujara was at his defiant best and contributed 29 off 92 deliveries in his 68-run stand with Kohli. The pair played out almost 32 overs, ie a little more than a session between them and had taken India to a reasonably dominant position at 100 for 2 before Lyon got the better of Pujara.
Another statistic which showcases Pujara's remarkable temperament and sheer doggedness is the number of deliveries he faced before scoring a boundary. He hit his first four off his 148th delivery - off the bowling of Lyon and followed that by another boundary. These were the only two boundaries Pujara hit during his innings.
This is not the first time Pujara has softened the new ball for India in Australia. He has been successful against the new ball in as many as 11 of the 13 innings he has batted at Number 3 in Australia. He has faced, on an average 164 deliveries in these 11 innings, which is equal to a little more than 27 overs.
Pujara has faced between 100-200 deliveries in three innings, between 200-300 in two and above 300 also in a couple of innings Down Under batting at Number 3. In as many as 6 innings at Number 3 Down Under Pujara has steadied the innings after India have lost wickets with the new ball within the first 10 overs.
Coupled with the deliveries and time he has faced negotiating the new ball, Pujara has amassed 765 runs in 8 Tests (14 innings) at an average of 54.64 including three hundreds and two fifties in Australia. He was the highest scorer of India's victorious 2018-19 campaign and had an aggregate in excess of 500 in the four-match series.
Not many batsmen in the world, in today's day and age of T20 and flashy cricket, do what the classical Pujara does with the bat. It requires great resolve and mental strength and physical skill as well. If India go on to win this Test, they must acknowledge the role played by their rock at Number 3 in the first innings.
Those 160 deliveries he negotiated while at the crease could go a long way for India.