The politics of batting

One was too slow, one was too quick, and one was just right.

Rishabh Pant was almost transformative.

Hanuma Vihari and Ajinkya Rahane had been going nowhere. When Pant came in, he brought a different feel with him. Putting pressure back on Australia. All the positive stuff we like. He scored more off one Pat Cummins over than India has as a unit off his first chunk in the morning. And Twitter was nodding along, supporting this batting.

Pant faced 40 balls and added only 29 runs.

There was nothing wrong with what Pant did. In a low scoring match, his innings has a higher impact because of how he played it. The partnership was the third-highest of the match at that point, and that it also seemed to free up Rahane as well. When Pant was out, they were only 22 behind. As he arrived at the crease, a lead looked a long way off. And how did he do this, with positive intent, punishing poor balls, and forcing the pace to that Australia had to change what they were doing.

But he also went out just as Australia were slipping. After they set up an offside field and held the ball wide to him, he struggled a bit more. The easiest option would have been to leave a bunch of balls. That is not Pant's way.

Mark Butcher once told me that some batsmen on boiling days attack more because they know they won't be able to concentrate as long. But maybe if they can get a quick 70 from 70, they will change the game and help other batsmen. Pant bats like every day is a scorcher.

Cheteshwar Pujara was almost stoic.

As he always is, especially when batting is tough. At the start of his innings he digs in deep like an Alabama tick. Australia were bowling as well as Adelaide, they just didn't get the edges. Someone had to last time. That is what Pujara does. We're told that no one can bat defensively anymore, at the same people moan at someone scoring under two and a half an over.

Pujara knew he was giving up some potential runs, but that wasn't his immediate concern.  Survival was. And he did that for as long as he could while Cummins was looking to devour his soul.

Pujara faced 70 balls and added only 17 runs.

Not only has he done this before, but it's what he is in the side to do. If anyone is built to survive the hurricane, it's him. But sometimes the weather wins.

Cast your mind back to the US election. When the early results came in, Donald Trump was in front. The stories were framed by how the pundits believed the Democrats had lost the election. Two days later, the same pundits had to do the exact same analysis but on Trump's loss.

That is what we do with batsmen. We judge each individual innings based on the results and then frame our response to that. So Pujara's defensive nature was his strength last series, and now it's strangling him. The attack of Pant is cavalier while it works, and reckless when it fails.

And while that happened, Ajinkya Rahane made a hundred.

It was a captain's innings because he was captaining. It was one of character because he didn't go out. He used all the skills we had seen from him before and constructed an innings that spanned the best part of a day proving again that he is one of the best batsmen in the world when in the away dressing room.

Rahane's knock will be judged as perfect because it worked. His strike rate was 52, Pujara was 24, Pant was 72. Pujara got stuck, and Pant went too fast. That is what got them both they'll say.

Rahane faced 200 balls and made 104 runs.

The politics of batting dictates that he did something right, and the other two made errors. It gives no credit to the fact that Pujara blunted an amazing new ball spell for over an hour. Allowing Rahane to come in when Cummins was ending his spell, not in the middle of it. Pant came to the crease when Rahane was stuck, he'd made 22 from his 67 balls, but he was having trouble pushing forward. Pant did that for him, and while Pant was there, India scored at a rate that put Australia off their game. Not that Rahane started smoking the ball, but his strike rate was 33 before Pant, and 63 with him.

But Pant made 29, and Pujara 17. In a low scoring game even with some heavy-duty context, these are not great innings. In fact, for those who think Pujara is too defensive will believe that he failed. While the narrative for those who think you should put a higher price on your wicket will believe Pant gave his innings away. While Rahane played a beautifully paced Test innings.

One of them succeeded, and the other two failed. They all played a part in Rahane's innings. And that is because all three batted for their strengths. Pujara can't be changing the tempo of a game, he changes the innings by not leaving the middle. Pant will always have a "name on one" if he stays out there too long, so he aims to disrupt. Rahane shifts to play the innings he thinks is required. That is why he has such an outstanding record on the road. He has the basics of defence with some decent scoring options. His middling approach can work in various situations, and he gives himself a chance to make runs.

His style is not better than Pujara or Pant. Pujara's will lead to longer innings, Pant's will change the direction of the match quicker.  But all three batted using the games that have made them runs at Test level. We praise the winner and worry about the others.

None of the three are perfect players, few at Test level are. They're using the things that work for them to continue. Batting is a game of failure. Steve Smith has played 133 innings, in 78 of them he's not passed 50. Most players aren't Smith, in the last two years top-order players pass fifty 22% of the time.

Today two players failed because of their styles, and one succeeded through his character. But without all three, India would not be 82 runs in front with five wickets in hand.  Pant sort of transformed, Pujara was stoic for a short while and Rahane made 104 runs. That’s politics.