Kolkata: Cheteshwar Pujara showed the right technique and matching temperament to stonewall the Sri Lankan attack even as he saw two more Indian batsmen fall at the other end on another frustrating day of rain and a little cricket.
With rain staying away in the morning, the second day's play of the first Test began on time (9.15 am) but the script remained the same here at the Eden Gardens on Friday. Lankan pacers were on spot again, getting generous lateral movement off the pitch as India lost overnight batsman Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin, both to avoidable shots. While Pujara stood firm at one side with an unbeaten 47 (163m, 102b, 9x4), other batsmen didn't show the same determination and technical nous to weather the difficult conditions.
While Suranga Lakmal, who had pushed India on the back foot with a three-wicket burst on Thursday, didn't get any wicket despite being as spiteful, Dasun Shanaka did the damage dismissing Rahane and Ashwin in a disciplined eight-over spell (8-2-23-2). Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha (6 n.o.) had put on 24 runs between them when the skies opened up again. Only 105 minutes of play had been possible before the weather intervened and with rain unrelenting, the officials called off the day's proceedings at 2.30 pm with India at an unflattering 74 for five in 32.5 overs.
Though over nine and half hours have been lost out of the possible 12 hours of play, there is still a genuine hope of an outright result thanks to the nature of the pitch. With the surface remaining under covers for most of last three days, the moisture is still intact that the pacers will continue to relish.
Shanaka, a military medium pacer, doesn't have the firepower to blast away the batsmen but all he had to do was land the ball in the right areas and let the pitch take care of the job. He did err in length on a few occasions, overpitching the ball on the off and getting duly punished by an opportunistic Pujara, but the right-arm bowler troubled the batsmen whenever he hit the right spot.
The deliveries that dismissed Rahane and Ashwin weren't really wicket-taking ones but he had sowed enough doubts in batsmen's mind by consistently bowling a nagging line outside off and getting it to nip away. Rahane, who had been pushing and missing those deliveries, poked at one that didn't deviate from its path. With little footwork, the right-hander could only manage a thin edge behind the wicket.
Ashwin didn't look comfortable either through his stay and even got struck on his right thumb while fending off a rising ball from Lahiru Gamage but he too got out playing a nothing shot off Shanaka. It was a similar delivery that had consumed Rahane and Ashwin too played away from his body to offer a catching practice to Dimuth Karunaratne at backward point.
Pujara, on whose shoulders rest India's hopes of putting up a fighting total, was a study in contrast. In conditions where one needed to play the waiting game, Pujara displayed the right approach and attitude. He played close to his body and offered straight bat, his innings had as many as 82 dot balls but punished all the loose deliveries to set a template for batting on this kind of surface.
India's fielding coach R Sridhar acknowledged Pujara's class, terming his innings as one of the best he has seen from the batsman in the last three years. "Pujara is a batsman who has a grip of every condition when he goes out to bat," he said of the right-hander. "The way he bats nowadays... Look it was quite simple -- the moving ball, play as close to your body. Try and keep the bat within your body line and try to play straight. If you see Pujara's knock, what truly stands out is most of his shots were to the right of mid-off. He had a very narrow 'V'. It was simple mantra and he did that and he was successful batting on 47. It was probably one of the best 47 runs I've seen from Pujara over a period of last 2 or 3 years."