Sport Cricket Pujara masterclass sums up India’s super summer

Pujara masterclass sums up India’s super summer

Coin toss fourth Test
Australian captain Tim Paine and Indian skipper Virat Kohli toss the coin on day one of the fourth Test in Sydney. Photo: Getty
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Gamble responsibly – it’s the catchphrase uttered with irony by every mug punter who gets stung by their sure thing.

For Australian captain Tim Paine, a man who could do with a cold call from lady luck, he must feel that no gamble is going to have a payday for him right now.

As in Melbourne at the Boxing Day Test, Paine lost the toss at the SCG on Thursday morning. Indian skipper Virat Kohli did the only thing there was to do, and elected to bat.

Australia was once again asked to put in a shift in the field on a wicket that looked like it might spit out runs like a poker machine rains 20 cent pieces when it jackpots.

There’s something fundamentally absurd about the fate of a five-day sporting contest being profoundly shaped by the cruelty of chance on offer from a coin toss.

Scrapping the coin toss as an unnecessary indulgence of tradition in a game now bound up as media content and commerce is squarely on the agenda.

Not yet though, and Australia was asked to make do with a dud hand again.

Cricket’s great tradition requires a certain sense of fatalism and resilience when the call of the coin requires that you face a placid pitch and a day in the field.

To their credit, the Australians displayed both, working hard to restrict India’s batsmen and claiming a prized scalp or two along the way.

The problem is, India’s batting depth stands in sharp contrast to that of its hosts.

Nobody embodies this more than the unflappable Cheteshwar Pujara. The 30-year-old from Gujarat province is enjoying the defining series of his 67-Test career.

While Australia was obsessing about the destructive potential of Virat Kohli prior to the series starting, nobody foresaw a different storm on the horizon.

Pujara has so far produced 458 runs at an average of 76.3 in this series, peeling off three centuries in the process.

In contrast, Australia has no century-makers in the series and its top score for the campaign is the 72 that Usman Khawaja made in the second innings in Perth.

“He’s just outlasted us the whole series with patience and discipline. He’s a class player and we just have to hold our patience longer than him,” Australian fast bowler Josh Hazlewood told Fox Cricket after the day’s play.

Hazlewood admitted Australia’s bowling wasn’t up to the mark as India took control.

“It was a little patchy. We had some good spells and some poor ones. We’ll have a think about that and come back tomorrow,” Hazlewood said.

Complementing Pujara’s dominance, Mayank Agarwal, in only his second Test match, looked on track for a maiden century before swinging for the fences one too many times and being caught by Mitchell Starc on the boundary.

Agarwal displayed textbook strategy in his innings. The Indian opener saw off the early threat from the Australian quicks with the new ball, then began to steadily increase the scoring rate as he grew in comfort and confidence.

His 77 from 112 deliveries (including seven boundaries and two sixes) built a platform.

Not surprisingly, the rookie batsman is having the time of his life.

“I’m actually loving it in Australia. We are playing some really good cricket. They’re coming hard (at us) and I’m enjoying it,” Agarwal said.

Agarwal had the best seat in the house as Pujara built his innings, and the new man is learning quickly what it takes to be at the top of your game.

“He is simply amazing. Three hundreds in one series in Australia. He’s really fighting it out, sticking it out, grinding the bowlers and then scoring runs,” Agarwal said.

Australia can but look on in envy – and with trepidation. When the XI step out onto the SCG for day two, Pujara will be there, ready and hungry for more runs.

And only a betting man down on his luck would back against it.

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