© BCCI

“The approach was quite different as there was a situation where I could play freely, take some risks and play my shots.” © BCCI

When India opted to bat a second time instead of enforcing the follow-on in the ongoing one-off Test against Bangladesh on Sunday (February 12), it was obvious that they would be looking for quick runs to have enough overs to bowl the opposition out.

Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise to see Cheteshwar Pujara walk out instead of, say, Ajinkya Rahane or even Ravindra Jadeja and Wriddhiman Saha, who all have stronger big-hitting credentials.

But Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli are usually on top of the situation. And Pujara soon showed that there was nothing wrong with the call to put him in at his customary No. 3 position when M Vijay fell early. To the second ball he faced, he stepped down the track to Taijul Islam and drove through the covers for four.

There was nothing reckless of course, but the runs kept coming. A late cut, an on-drive and a cover-drive for fours off Taskin Ahmed, and then, clearly taking a liking to what the paceman was dishing out, a hooked six. A shot that caused non-striker Kohli’s face to break into a wide smile and come dancing up to Pujara with fists pumping.

“The approach was quite different as there was a situation where I could play freely, take some risks and play my shots,” said Pujara after the day’s play, a fleeting shy smile the only acknowledgement when reminded of Kohli’s reaction. “Because when it comes to Test cricket, you still have to put a price on your wicket. When you are playing in the first innings, you don’t want to play any rash shot and get out and put the team in trouble. This was an opportunity where we had to bat for one session, and even if I get out, we had batsmen who can come in and accelerate.”

Kohli was quick, scoring 38 in 40 balls, and so were Rahane (28 in 35) and Jadeja (16 not out in 10), but Pujara was the lead player, going on to get to a 57-ball half-century with a late-cut for four off Shakib Al Hasan before ending unbeaten on 54 from 58 as India declared 458 runs ahead with four full sessions to bowl Bangladesh out.

“There is a perception that I can’t play many shots. But if you look at domestic cricket and overall … this was one of the occasions that gave me an opportunity to express myself and I did that.”

“Since we had fielded for more than 100 overs, the idea was to give the bowlers a break for a session, and then they can recover and come back fresh,” said Pujara when asked why India didn’t ask Bangladesh to bat again even though they were 299 in front. “When I went in to bat, the idea was to score as many as runs as possible. We were looking at 150 to 200 runs on the board. We wanted to express ourselves. I was batting freely, I knew that I will have to keep hitting the ball and ultimately I am happy with the way things went.

“There is a perception that I can’t play many shots. But if you look at domestic cricket and overall … this was one of the occasions that gave me an opportunity to express myself and I did that.”

With an eye on the February 20 Indian Premier League auction, possibly? “I am very hopeful that (long-format) perception will go soon,” smiled Pujara before turning serious again. “I have got a T20 hundred in the DY Patil tournament recently and I am batting freely; probably I have added a few shots in my game, which is helping me. Even in the Test format, the way I am striking the ball, the way I am batting, I have changed my game, which is helping me in my T20 and ODI game. In the near future, I think things will change.”

Even though India were well in front when Pujara and Jadeja, the Saurashtra boys, were called back by Kohli, the nature of the pitch meant that a draw wasn’t out of the equation. But with R Ashwin striking twice and Jadeja once, India ended the day well placed to stretch their remarkable recent Test record by one more win.

“I think the ball has started turning now; the wicket is slightly on the slower side but probably it has opened up and there should be more assistance for spinners tomorrow,” hoped Pujara. “We expected the ball to turn from day three and it started turning a little more from day four. The way we performed as a bowling unit, a lot of credit goes to the bowlers. It’s not an easy wicket where you can run through sides, you need a lot of patience. They had to work hard to get them out. We are hopeful that we will get those seven wickets as early as possible, maybe in a couple of sessions, but at the same time, they batted well in the first innings.”