The Aussie ploy to get Cheteshwar Pujara: bowl ‘unplayable’ deliveries to target his flaws

Yet again, on the third morning of the final Test at Brisbane, Cheteshwar Pujara fell the same way. It was Pat Cummins until the first innings of the last Test. Then Josh Hazlewood took over as the hit man. Same line of attack. Same approach from Pujara. Pujara plays the angle — incoming from slightly wide, straightening with bounce on off stump forces him to place his bat inside the line gingerly at an angle, which is his way, and the subsequent deviation takes him out. After facing 94 balls and scoring 25 runs, he got one that jumped at him from good length, forcing him to edge to keeper Tim Paine. Glenn McGrath, on air at that time, would say: “Aussies have found his weakness – bowl unplayable balls to get him out.” All through this series, the battle between the Aussies bowlers and Cheteshwar Pujara has narrowed down to the smallest real estate of trouble around the off stump. Unlike most batsmen, Pujara has near-total control over his hands. He doesn’t chase balls (the shot in the Melbourne chase was an aberration), doesn’t stab at them, doesn’t let his hands wander ahead or away. The bat is tucked in, held softly to sponge out the venom in a misbehaving ball and is also the last line of defence in case it tilts in towards the off stump. The method has been his childhood friend, but on this tour Pat Cummins is forcing it to betray him. Though he has pace, Cummins doesn’t blow away the batsman. He alters their reality. Ball by ball. He is not an overwhelming force but a counterintuitive explorer of angles, a bowler who has made Pujara feel not fear, but doubt. Cummins’ is a labour of cricketing intelligence, a matter of working out barely visible flaws in Pujara, causing internal injury rather than mere body blows. It’t not a set-up. It isn’t about slipping in a surprise deviator from the norm; it’t not about slanting a few balls in and then taking one away. Pujara is made of sterner stuff than that. The king of patience doesn’t get distracted so easily. That was the attempt in the last series in Australia. Lessons have been learnt. Pujara’t method has one “flaw”. The need to hold the bat inside the line, on the off-stump line. It’s the fulcrum, the soul of his technique. The bat is on that line; a ball outside it is allowed to fly past the edge due to his abnormal control over his hands. They don’t jerk. The deviating ball can’t land a kiss. Pujara doesn’t leave as many balls as M Vijay did in his pomp. He likes to feel bat on ball, preferring to sponge out trouble rather than outright rejection. He has built a technique around that basic urge. His game is to play the line and his carefully-constructed technique allows him to do that. It lets him tap them away, and hold his bat in line when the ball swings or seams away. It lets him push short-of-length balls to gully or point. It lets him nourish his urge to play the line, without danger. Until now. Some have magic in their fingers, some are intelligent; bowlers who combine cerebral and physical magic are rare. Cummins’ game is built around making the batsmen think the ball is going to come in with the line. Like Jasprit Bumrah, to an extent. His angled release point suggests a hint of inward tilt. He then layers it with counterintuitive deceptions.

The Aussie ploy to get Cheteshwar Pujara: bowl ‘unplayable’ deliveries to target his flaws

Yet again, on the third morning of the final Test at Brisbane, Cheteshwar Pujara fell the same way. It was Pat Cummins until the first innings of the last Test. Then Josh Hazlewood took over as the hit man. Same line of attack. Same approach from Pujara.

Pujara plays the angle — incoming from slightly wide, straightening with bounce on off stump forces him to place his bat inside the line gingerly at an angle, which is his way, and the subsequent deviation takes him out.

After facing 94 balls and scoring 25 runs, he got one that jumped at him from good length, forcing him to edge to keeper Tim Paine. Glenn McGrath, on air at that time, would say: “Aussies have found his weakness – bowl unplayable balls to get him out.”

All through this series, the battle between the Aussies bowlers and Cheteshwar Pujara has narrowed down to the smallest real estate of trouble around the off stump. Unlike most batsmen, Pujara has near-total control over his hands. He doesn’t chase balls (the shot in the Melbourne chase was an aberration), doesn’t stab at them, doesn’t let his hands wander ahead or away. The bat is tucked in, held softly to sponge out the venom in a misbehaving ball and is also the last line of defence in case it tilts in towards the off stump. The method has been his childhood friend, but on this tour Pat Cummins is forcing it to betray him.

Though he has pace, Cummins doesn’t blow away the batsman. He alters their reality. Ball by ball. He is not an overwhelming force but a counterintuitive explorer of angles, a bowler who has made Pujara feel not fear, but doubt. Cummins’ is a labour of cricketing intelligence, a matter of working out barely visible flaws in Pujara, causing internal injury rather than mere body blows.

It’t not a set-up. It isn’t about slipping in a surprise deviator from the norm; it’t not about slanting a few balls in and then taking one away. Pujara is made of sterner stuff than that. The king of patience doesn’t get distracted so easily. That was the attempt in the last series in Australia. Lessons have been learnt.

Pujara’t method has one “flaw”. The need to hold the bat inside the line, on the off-stump line. It’s the fulcrum, the soul of his technique. The bat is on that line; a ball outside it is allowed to fly past the edge due to his abnormal control over his hands. They don’t jerk. The deviating ball can’t land a kiss.

Pujara doesn’t leave as many balls as M Vijay did in his pomp. He likes to feel bat on ball, preferring to sponge out trouble rather than outright rejection. He has built a technique around that basic urge. His game is to play the line and his carefully-constructed technique allows him to do that. It lets him tap them away, and hold his bat in line when the ball swings or seams away. It lets him push short-of-length balls to gully or point. It lets him nourish his urge to play the line, without danger. Until now.

Some have magic in their fingers, some are intelligent; bowlers who combine cerebral and physical magic are rare. Cummins’ game is built around making the batsmen think the ball is going to come in with the line. Like Jasprit Bumrah, to an extent. His angled release point suggests a hint of inward tilt. He then layers it with counterintuitive deceptions.

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