Unless Cheteshwar Pujara can find another gear to his strokeplay, his occupation of the crease will not scare the Aussies, writes Michael Jeh
Cheteshwar Pujara is a great disappointment in this series. Sydney is his chance to show that he is capable of learning from his technical shortcomings.
India's Cheteshwar Pujara drives during Day Five of the Adelaide Test against Australia on December 13, 2014. Pic/Getty Images
It seems odd to talk about technique when you are referring to Pujara, but on Australian pitches, his low stance and low hands make him vulnerable to the extra bounce. Getting out to Nathan Lyon both times in Adelaide is a surprise for someone who eats off-spin for breakfast but his subsequent dismissals to the quicks were predictable.
Even when he was trying to save the Melbourne Test, he kept playing defensively away from his body, attempting to score through the gully region. Unless corrected in Sydney, expect more catches to the cordon or lobs to gully from the shoulder of his bat.
In Australian conditions, Pujara is not feared — at best, he might stonewall but unless he can find another gear to his strokeplay, his occupation of the crease doesn't scare the Aussies like any of the other Indian strokemakers.
The pitch in Sydney is traditionally expected to favour spin but that too may be a dangerous assumption. In recent years, good fast bowlers have run rampant here. That India have fast bowlers is clear to anybody watching the speed gun. That they have good ones is another matter altogether.
They've bowled well in patches, they've bowled well to some of the batsmen but their ability to sustain pressure and bowl intelligently to the tail is nothing short of woeful. The fields they have had to bowl to have not been helpful but despite that, their inability to string a sequence of good balls together is a damning indictment of the way they've been coached and prepared.
On that note, it is amusing indeed to listen to the subconscious bias of the Channel Nine commentators. When an Indian bowler dropped to 135 k's, they were usually quick to point out the lack of fitness, venom, stamina etc.
So-called experts wrong
Yet, consistently, the Indians bowled quicker than the Australians and that point was seemingly lost on the so-called experts. It would be fair to say that no modern fast bowler these days can lay claim to any great level of physical fitness.
They are all mollycoddled, given drinks every few minutes, spend hours warming up and cooling off in ice baths and are still unable to bowl their allotted overs within the allowed time frame.
What should be even more galling to India, in hindsight, is that they've been given pitches thus far that they could only have dreamt of. Adelaide favoured their style of play and Brisbane was about as docile as we've ever seen at the Gabba. Usually, batting first at the Gabba is a nightmare for Asian teams but with the heat and the dead pitch, they got lucky and threw it away.
Melbourne was a poor cricket wicket despite the notion that just because it is good for batting, it is a 'good' pitch. The lack of variable bounce and turn on Day 5 deserves a whole lot more censure than it got, especially coming from an Australian press gallery who are savage in their criticism of Indian pitches that are supposedly doctored to suit the locals.
So, to Sydney we go, a new year, a new captain but I fear, same old same old. India will hold their own for at least 50 per cent of the game but when they have a bad patch, it will be catastrophic. As I pointed out in my series preview a few weeks ago, in Australia, you don't win a Test in a session but you can easily lose one. India, away from home, make a habit of doing just that.
The number of runs Cheteshwar Pujara has scored in the first three Tests of the ongoing series over six innings