Cheteshwar Pujara remained upbeat even as England neutralised India’s small first-innings lead and built their own on the third day of the Southampton Test, ensuring the visitors will be chasing well over 200 in the final innings.
England started their day at 6-0, still 21 runs in arrears in the second innings, but batted through the day, losing eight wickets and accumulating 254 runs. Consequently, at 260-8, they now have a 233-run lead over India, who were bowled out for 273 in the first innings.
Even though India are staring at a big total to chase and level the series, Pujara, who scored an unbeaten 132 in the first innings, doesn’t think his team had a bad day. “I don’t think it was a tough day for us. Looking at the pitch, it has slowed down a bit,” Pujara said after day three.
“Looks like it’s slightly easier to bat, and maybe we have got a lot of experience playing in such conditions back home [which is something] our batsmen would have realised.”
That India are chasing at least around 250, especially after having England 92-4 in their second innings at one stage, was down to some solid batting by Jos Buttler (69), captain Joe Root (48), Ben Stokes (30), and Sam Curran, who was unbeaten on 37 at stumps. It was also because India’s premier off-spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, bowled 35 overs in the second innings but managed only one wicket.
“I don’t think he (Ashwin) had a bad day. He didn’t get too many wickets but he still kept on bowling in the right areas,” Pujara argued. “Sometimes as a bowler you do have such days when you’re bowling well but you might not end up picking too many wickets.
“So someone like him … I think he is a clever bowler and he has done really well for us throughout the domestic season and even overseas, so I don’t think he has bowled badly at all.”
England forged partnerships at crucial junctures of the game, the prominent ones being the 59-run second-wicket stand between Keaton Jennings (36) and Root, and a 56-run stand between Stokes and Buttler, even as India’s fast bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah (1-51), Mohammed Shami (3-53) and Ishant Sharma (2-36) kept chipping away.
It was this lack of partnerships in the middle order that had seen India slip from 161-3 to 195-8 before Pujara led a revival with Sharma and Bumrah. Pujara said the batsmen could have done better in the first innings.
“We started off well in the first innings but we lost too many wickets in the middle phase. If we had batted well, we would have got 100 or 150-run lead, but that is something in the past,” he said.
“But all the batsmen have realised what they need to do and I think we will put up a good show in the second innings and bowl them out early tomorrow.”
Suggesting that the pitch in Southampton has slowed down, Pujara said such a surface, which is similar to a sub-continent pitch in some aspects, could help the Indian batsmen.
“Looking at this pitch, I think it always slows down a bit, but we have played on such wickets in India that tend to slow down as the game progresses,” Pujara said. “And even the bounce is low, so most of our batters are used to such bounce and that could be in our favour in the second innings.”
However comfortable Pujara thinks it will be for India, they will still have to be wary of Moeen Ali, who picked up 5-63 in the first innings, including two wickets in two balls when he sent back Ashwin and Shami.
Pujara conceded that India could have played Ali better. “I think when he bowled in the first innings, the wicket was a little quicker and some of our batters could have batted a bit better,” he said.
“But he is a good bowler – I am not trying to take any credit away from the way he bowled, but we still should have batted better against him and in the second innings batters will have a better game plan against Moeen.”