Hook goes in the loft
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A couple of months ago, at the end of the India-New Zealand series, top computer analysts around the cricketing world would have updated their databases. With India getting a new No.3 in Tests, the folder with Rahul Dravid clips would have been replaced and renamed 'Cheteshwar Pujara'. In the days to follow, captains, coaches and bowlers would have poured over the fresh input while plotting an assault on India's top-order. Pujara's batting DNA was on the glass slide and under the microscope.
Before this tour, in the England war room, Pujara would have been under scrutiny. And maybe, after watching a couple of Pujara dismissals from the New Zealand series, the bowlers might have even delightfully sniggered.
The first one was at the end of Pujara's 159 in the first Test. Bowling with his mid on in, Jeetan Patel had played on Pujara's patience by repeatedly flighting the ball around the off stump. Pujara had fallen for it and attempted to clear the long on ropes. His lofted shot went just halfway, into the hands of a backtracking mid on. In the next game at Bangalore, the sharp and nippy Tim Southee got Pujara mis-hooking the last of the several short balls he aimed at his chin to get him caught at fine leg.
Another talented, but impetuous IPL product, the English might have thought. On Pujara, coach Andy Flower's dossier might have read: Spinners to flight, pacers to bowl short.
So at Ahmedabad, Graeme Swann, at the first opportunity, was flighting the ball to Pujara. At Wankhede, where the pitch had more bounce than Motera, pacer Stuart Broad and James Anderson were testing him with the short ball. Unfortunately for England, Pujara and his coaches too had seen those dismissals. Swann's loopy balls were driven along the carpet to cover or mid-on but never lofted. As for the short balls from the pacers, they were either left alone or guided over slips. The pull came out only when Pujara knew he could get on top of the bounce and keep it down. He never hooked. In this round of mind-games, the ever-improving Pujara had out-thought his opponents.