Cheteshwar Pujara in a left-arm spin after Jack Leach gets him again
Not only has Jack Leach kept India’s finest grafter Cheteshwar Pujara in check, he has achieved it by making him defend from the crease. Every time.
Jack Leach has now dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara in similar fashion in each of the four Tests in the ongoing series. This after Pat Cummins got him out five times in Australia last tour. The series before that, in New Zealand, Trent Boult bowled Pujara twice in two Tests with sharply swinging-in deliveries from well outside off-stump.
Is India’s No. 3 becoming predictable against certain bowlers? It’s not easy to ascertain. It’s futile drawing conclusions on Pujara based on a string of dismissals or because he hasn’t scored a century in 28 innings since the mammoth 193 in the 2019 New Year Test in Sydney. There have been eight fifties though, some of them coming at the expense of bodily harm when the team needed him to anchor the innings. And if we are talking results, India have lost only one (in New Zealand) of the five Test series after Australia (2019). So all’s well with Pujara from the team’s point of view.
Yet Leach will not treat this any less than a personal victory. Not only has Leach kept India’s finest grafter in check, he has achieved it by making him defend from the crease. Every time. In fact, both dismissals in Ahmedabad bear uncanny resemblance—Pujara gingerly offering his bat behind the pad to a fast, flat Leach delivery arrowing in, and straightening after pitching on middle. The two dismissals in Chennai too were similar despite bearing different lines—on each occasion the ball drifted in, pitched around length and found turn, forcing a half-hearted prod from Pujara that was easily pouched by Ben Stokes at slip.
Of his four dismissals to Leach, this time Pujara had batted the most balls (66). He was 15 off 38 in the first Test, 21 off 58 in the second and 0 off four in the third. A slow starter, Pujara more or less gets the hang of the pitch by the time he has played 50 balls. On a comparatively better behaving Motera pitch, there was no reason for Pujara to not anticipate a similar dismissal attempt from Leach after the third Test. Leach still got him. And this time, it was fired in quicker through the air than the previous dismissal with the pink ball.
Statistically, left-arm spinners have now caused most problems to Pujara at home. Consider this: Of the 45 Tests Pujara has now played at home, he averages the least (26) against left-arm spin compared to left-arm pace (28.5), right-arm pace (52.7) and right-arm spin (61.83). In 24 innings at home against right-arm spin, Pujara has scored 1,484 runs with 170 boundaries, facing 3,062 deliveries. But in nine innings against left-arm spin, he has scored 234 runs with 28 boundaries facing 555 deliveries. From an average of 127.5 balls faced per innings to right-arm spin, Pujara slumps to 61.6 balls faced per innings to left-arm spin. The disparity is stunning.
Questions have been raised why Pujara hasn’t used his feet enough, like he did in Australia to negate Nathan Lyon in all four Tests. But an off-spinner’s loopier trajectory and pitching length (generally just outside off-stump) makes it easier for any right-hander to come down the crease. It explains why even Pujara, not known to be an attacking batsman, likes to take his chances against right-arm spin. But left-arm spin rarely allows for that manoeuvrability. Quicker through the air, Leach always attacks the stumps, making it more difficult for Pujara to leave his crease. And when he forces Pujara to defend, he often does with bat behind the pad. In these times of DRS and umpire’s call, that approach has turned out to be his bane.