Cheteshwar Pujara should have scored more

How Pujara was India's equal top scorer and to many people, also the main problem.

It is torturous watching someone bat slow. It is usually more torturous to hear people moan about it.

India lost two wickets in the first session of the Test. They scored only a handful more runs in that time. 31 of them were from Cheteshwar Pujara. He should have scored more.

But let's look at the wickets first.  One was from a combination of two factors, Ajinkya Rahane playing a back foot guide that was a bit too close to begin with. Then to make it worse, the ball seamed in massively. Meaning by the time the ball arrived, it was the wrong shot. It was probably a ball to leave, or perhaps defend. But Rahane saw a gap on the offside, made a calculation, and he was wrong.

But there was also some luck involved. The ball was nowhere near the stumps when it took his edge, it could have been an accidental single to fine leg or smashed into his hip. Instead, it found the stumps.

The next wicket was a run out. Vihari had four runs from 38 balls. If there was pressure on him to score, it was self-inflicted. You could make an argument that they're the worst form of wicket in a Test match. I'm not quite there, partly because unless you are Cheteshwar Pujara, giving quality bowlers six consecutive deliveries will lead to your dismissal. A single every four balls is enough to make the bowler's job more challenging.

India were actually scoring pretty well against Lyon at that point, 3.5 runs an over. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood were going at one an over in the session, and Mitchell Starc was at two. So while they didn't need to push a risky one against Lyon, they couldn't score at the other end.  It's probably also fair to suggest that Hanuma Vihari and Pujara aren't two great runners.

But the attempt had some problems, Vihari seemed committed before he could be sure. Hazlewood was actually close at mid-off, meaning Vihari thought he was a fair chance of beating him, and the ball got to him very fast. Lastly, it went to Hazlewood's right hand. Even if it's a big fast bowler, you risk your wicket in Tests if you take on someone's preferred throwing arm.

There was luck in it, I don't know what percentage Hazlewood would have dived, pouched cleanly and hit the stumps, but I'd be shocked if it's over 20%.

Even if Rahane and Vihari were slightly unlucky, they also played a part in their dismissals. You know who didn't go out in that session, Cheteshwar Pujara.

Now perhaps Pujara played a part in that by slowing the pace down of the innings. If that is the case, though, wouldn't that be really obvious for his entire career when he starts slowly? Like, wouldn't all the surrounding batsmen just always be going out? That's clearly not really a thing. Top-order batsmen who take the shine off the ball and bat long usually help their team far more. As I pointed out in a previous piece, Pujara is not the slowest batsman globally, and he scores far more runs than most of the guys slower than him.  He's an effective five-day batsman, he didn't cause either of those wickets.

Here is the thing that people who want him to score quicker never really think about. If you attack, you up your chance of being dismissed, defending is always the safest shot. And how much would Pujara have to accelerate to get Cummins pulled from the attack, or put him off his game?

The problem with this Australian bowling group at the moment is the only way to beat them is to take the risk that can end your innings. You can't press the 'accelerate safely' button. You have to drive on the up, push from the wrong line, or manufacture runs that don't exist.

The absolute best-case scenario is that they could have put Australia under pressure by upping the rate, and moved the field around. Statistically, Pat Cummins is the best bowler against top-order batsmen since Glenn McGrath, in the last two years he averages 18 with the ball. He's going to bowl his spell, it's going to be really good. And he'll take a wicket. And in this case, Hazlewood came on and he bowled just as good. Starc was excellent as well. Pujara made sure his end wasn't open.

It wasn't ideal, but neither is facing this attack without your best batsman.

But if Vihari hadn't been run out, India were a decent chance of making the second new ball only three wickets down, 130 runs behind.

Pujara made people angrier than the two who had been dismissed. Even though in the session he'd outscored both of them.

And I get this rage as a fan, and an Australian. We were told to always be putting pressure on the bowler by either hitting boundaries or running hard. Intent, body language, I was fed these as a kid. But now we're all Australian because of white-ball cricket. The Big Bash and the Hundred have been sped up because people don't like the lulls in the middle of T20.  Any Test player blocking out a session now is treated worse than a terrorist storming the US Capitol  building.

As a batsman, your job is to make as many runs as possible while making it easier for your team to score them. You can do that by smashing the ball around everywhere, but seven guys have scored at a strike rate quicker than 60 while averaging over 45 since 1980. 21 have scored at slower than 50. Of those are noted slowpokes, Dean Jones, Javed Miandad and Martin Crowe. Now the game has changed since back then, but it's still supposed to be five days long. And they would go that far if more batsmen like Pujara existed.

Tiring the bowlers is as essential a part of Test cricket as scoring quickly. They both work. In back-to-back Tests and long series overworking the oppositions seamers is a sound tactic. Ensuring your middle order aren't in before the 50th over is always a good move. The ideal batsman can do both, but it's hard to be a complete player in Tests.

Pujara isn't perfect. He doesn't rotate the strike enough, can't change a game quickly and isn't a good runner between wickets. But when facing an incredible attack like this, he's a hell of a plus. He averages 47 with the bat with almost 6000 Test runs. Only 55 batsmen are 45 plus with 5000 runs. If he passes 6000 averaging 47, he'll be one of 38 players ever to qualify for that mark.  So it's a shame Pujara bats so slow that none of his runs count.

Not that he's batting well in the last couple of years. He has been averaging 28, and like batsmen as a whole, he's found scoring runs really tough. So you would think a 50 against the world's best team would be seen as something to rejoice in. Instead, it was the very worst thing he could do.

There are fair criticisms to be made, one fascinating one in this tweet.

Maybe it is one-paced. If you had Kohli to put a bit more pressure on the bowlers it would change the dynamic. But even Kohli scored slowly in Adelaide. Because have you seen this Australian bowling attack, even Starc isn't giving much to hit. Cummins has bowled a bad ball in this series, but buggered if I can remember it. Hazlewood and Lyon are even more accurate. A half volley is such a shock to the Indian batsman that they've forgotten what to do with them.

The narrative around these innings comes from commentators.

I am a cricket commentator. And I know that it is a bizarre job, in that mostly, you get paid the same to work two days as you do for five. I have also spent enough time with former cricketers to know that not all of them are massively in love with the game. Just because it is the sport you are best at, doesn't mean you love it. But it's also your main source of income.

At times, this leads to commentators to call for stupid declarations and frustration when batsman don't score at a run a ball. But I don't think any of this is what led Ponting to this.

Ponting is not wrong, Pujara could be better. But Pujara has been out of form for a while, and made a 50 against the best attack in the world.  Can he improve, sure, so could anyone in his team, and not a single one of them outscored him.

It wasn't just Ponting that was talking about Pujara, Mark Waugh had plenty to say.  Waugh likes attacking cricket, that is why most of us would prefer to see him bat than Pujara. But there are other ways to bat that doesn't have you hitting every finger spinner over long-on.

There was plenty of critical things he said about Pujara, but let's focus on two.

The first one was that Pujara was partially responsible for the Kohli run out in Adelaide. Confused emoji. Pujara made 43 out of India's first 100 runs in Adelaide - outscoring their second innings. Kohli was run out with the score on 188 - 26.2 overs after Pujara was out. Head exploding emoji. Just for fun, I looked at the batsmen's two strike rates in that innings, Pujara struck at 27, and Kohli at 41. That means Pujara was 18 slower than usual, and Kohli was 16 down on his normal rate.

The next thing Waugh suggested was Pujara should expand his strokes against spinners before lunch. Then after the break, he came back on air "I think he should be more proactive against spin". So it's clear this was something Waugh thought was a problem. Pujara averages 75 against spinners in Test cricket, scoring at a strike rate of 53. In this innings that Waugh was watching, he had scored 30 from 36 from Nathan Lyon.  Nuclear emoji.

When I tweeted about it, I got many arguments like Waugh's. Pujara blocked half volleys (I didn't find that), Smith and Labuschagne scored quicker (against a far weaker attack), and had he scored faster he would have made more runs (I mean, sure, ok).

Ponting's criticisms may not be right, but they make sense. Waugh's seem to come from an alternate reality. And the fans, well if he makes 200 he's boring, a really slow half-century he's put pressure on everyone and no runs is a failure. Cheteshwar Pujara is a man for a rotary dial, not a smartphone. People insult him quicker than he will ever score.

Pujara made his 50 from 174 balls, his slowest in his career, and his first this tour. Last time he travelled to Australia he passed 50 four times, and made 521 runs. When he passed 50 in each of those he did so off 153, 140, 152 and 134 balls.

India lost eight wickets on day three. They made 244 runs in total. 50 of of them were from Cheteshwar Pujara. He should have scored more. India should have scored more.

It will torture him and the team that they didn't. If in doubt, always score more in a Test. One more than the opposition is preferable.