IND vs AUS: The problem with Cheteshwar Pujara

It has been a delight watching Ravichandran Ashwin bowl to Cheteshwar Pujara in the nets during the tour. Standing behind the stumps one can actually see the seam pointed towards fine-leg as it leaves Ashwin's hand. Then, as it travels down the pitch, it almost seems like the ball floats before dropping. As one's eyes drop slightly to see the ball land on the surface, you notice Pujara has already danced down the pitch to meet it.

It is a fascinating battle between two men who are having a contrasting series. Ashwin has bowled as well as he ever has outside Asia. He has been able to hold one end up, allowing the fast bowlers to be rotated from the other. Ashwin already has 10 scalps at 17.70 in two Tests. Importantly, he looks confident and is itching to bowl at the Australian batsmen.

On the other hand, Pujara has had a tough series. After battling hard for his 43 in the first innings at Adelaide, the India No. 3 has been dismissed for three low scores. On the previous tour, Pujara had worn the Australian bowlers into submission, but this time around it is the home team's fast bowlers that have strangled him.

So far, Pujara has a strike-rate of 26. He has never been a free-flowing batsman, but he still has different gears.

On the 2018-19 tour, the Australian fast bowlers tried to expose the gap between Pujara's bat and pad. The plan was based on the England bowlers trapping him LBW or getting him bowled in seaming conditions. However, the flat pitches in Australia resulted in Pujara emerging successful and scoring three hundreds. On this occasion, they have attacked the outside edge of the bat. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have delivered from wide of the crease and then seamed it away. It is a plan that has undone Pujara thrice in this series.

India need Pujara to come good in Sydney. He needs to find a way to overcome the incoming ball and score a bit more freely. He is still India's anchor man and the rest of the batsmen will thrive on his presence at the crease.

It will be fascinating to watch how Pujara tries to conquer the Australian tactics in Sydney. On the other hand, if Ashwin carries on with his form, Australia are in for a mighty fight. If both Pujara and Ashwin fire together, chances are India will pull off another surprise.

193
No. of runs scored by Cheteshwar Pujara in his only Test played at Sydney