Pujara v Lyon – pad, rough and a game of roulette

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The rough patches on a deteriorating pitch must feel like a double-edged sword to an offspinner. On one hand, it makes his job easier as in he doesn’t need a blueprint for where he needs to land the ball. He’s got a locked-in location readily available and distinctly marked. There’s also enough assistance on offer from these patches – created courtesy the fast bowler’s footmarks – to accentuate his skills and his potency. But then, they also have the potential to accentuate his ineffectiveness or in some cases his ineptitude if he fails to make use of them.
Bowling into the rough for a spinner is akin to a gambler who keeps betting on the same number on a roulette table. It might be a strategy employed with the conviction that it’ll come good eventually at some point. But there is that odd chance, on a really luckless day, where it simply doesn’t work out. Nathan Lyon was having that kind of a day at the Adelaide Oval, especially against his nemesis from the first innings, Cheteshwar Pujara.
Not only was he not creating the impact that was expected of him or was demanded of him, he simply wasn’t getting the rub of the green go his way. Twice he celebrated Pujara’s wicket. Twice Pujara referred his dismissal. Twice, his decision to opt for DRS was vindicated. Twice, Nigel Llong had to reverse his decision – rather reluctantly.
Speaking of gambling on the cricket field – the lawful kinds that is – Pujara was hedging his bets on a risky manoeuvre himself. There was a time using your pads to negate a spinner’s impact was considered a shrewd, even if boorish, tactic. Former West Indies captain turned director of Caribbean cricket, Jimmy Adams, made a career out of it. It was back when batsmen still remained the more privileged class, where the proverbial benefit of doubt actually used to go their way. But towards the end of the millennium, umpires started developing a long-deserved soft corner for spinners, and started apprehending excessive pad-play. Then came DRS, further making life difficult for batsmen who would try to be deceptive in trying to convince the umpire that they were playing a shot while trying to put the pad in harm’s way.
But on Saturday, Pujara was using his pad to make a statement. He was up against a bowler who’d got his number more often than any bowler, save Jimmy Anderson. Pujara v Lyon may not be as glamorous an individual battle as a Virat Kohli v Jimmy Anderson. But it’s never been short of intrigue. Though Lyon has dismissed Pujara on seven occasions in the past, the India No. 3 has had his success against Australia’s premier spinner too, especially on home soil.