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Ban vs Ind 1st Test

Taijul Islam is known for bowling long, flawless spells. He is in the thick of it when Rishabh Pant enters. Taijul lands it where he wants it, he gets drift and dip, and also variable turn from the field. He just got Virat Kohli with a flat, fast pitch that threw on the leg and spun against the corner. India is 48 for 3 after a fast start. There is support from the other side of the sailors after indifferent initial spells.

A sign of how well Taijul is bowling is that he puts even Cheteshwar Pujara to the test on both sides. Pujara isn’t the flashiest spin player, but he’s good at stumping by reaching the pitch of the ball or going straight back. It’s not often that spinners let him play defensively from the crease forward. For some reason Taijul gets him to do it. Maybe what he did in the air or, as Pujara said, the distrust of the field: not every ball has turned, but plenty of balls have turned from the straight.

Enter Pant, and all of a sudden Taijul is bowling a long and deep midwicket, before Pant even saw a ball. Before Pant does anything daring – in fact he’s 6 out of 14 – Taijul bowls around the wicket towards him. Pant is now doing daring things, sweeping a full ball between the keeper and the back short leg, jumping out and hitting a six, simply bending his upper body back to create a short length and pulling a four.

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Pant may have doubters in limited overs formats, but he has been India’s best batsman in Tests for some time. Once again, promoted to No. 5 to disrupt the bowlers’ rhythm, Pant is doing what needs to be done when it appears Bangladesh are good at sealing conventional scoring ways for India’s top spot.

At the non-striker’s end is the familiar sight of Pujara with whom he has now spent 1184 balls in the middle in just 10 partnerships. That is an average of almost 20 overs that the two hit together. It is one of the most fascinating partnerships in world cricket. Pujara can make you feel like a good ball alone isn’t enough to get it out; Pant can only hit good balls to every part of the field. It can’t be easy for bowlers to adapt to these two extremes.

Pujara is perhaps the last of its kind: a batsman who pushes his defense to the limit in a world full of fitter bowlers and deeper attacks. More and more batters and teams feel it’s just not possible to wait to tire the bowlers before taking the runs you’ve earned. And yet there he is, making another comeback, doing what he knows, just with newfound bloodlust. Good balls out, soft hands when playing outside, dancing shoes on but just defending.

In his stubbornness, in his extreme faith in his own method, Pujara is just like Pant. At least until the Australia series was won, every time one of them came out people had questioned their method. Maybe they also sympathize with each other. Maybe that’s why they click with each other. They clearly complement each other. Pujara has often said that he gets access to bad balls because of Pant’s presence with him. Pant can also rest assured that he doesn’t need to rein in his aggression, which a fall off the other side’s wicket may force him to do.

And yet, judging from public records, they can be mildly annoying to each other. There is this story from during the epic rescue of the SCG test during India’s epic tour of Australia in 2020-21. Pant hit 97 in the last over before lunch when Pujara told him to take it easy and come back and score the hundred if he doesn’t get a bad ball. Turns out Pant didn’t even know his score, telling Pujara that the memory caused the slightest hesitation in the shot that took him out. Pujara has talked about how many hundreds Pant has missed.

“Pujara has often said that he gets access to bad balls because of Pant’s presence with him. Pant can also rest assured that he doesn’t have to curb his aggression, which a fall from wicket at the other end can force him to do”

As you can imagine, Pujara probably feels that Pant can do so much more with the natural ability to take blows. Similarly, Pant probably feels baffled by Pujara’s insistence on giving the bowlers a good grind before taking it on. Still, they enjoy hitting each other because India enjoys that partnership. Five of their 10 partnerships started at 102 or lower. On each of those occasions, they have helped India out of trouble.

By the time they are separated here, India will have passed the dangerous period. They end the first day of their test season in predominance. A season in which they can afford no more than a single misstep to make it to the WTC final. It is perhaps safe to say that if India fails to get there, a team will have found a way around this partnership between two of today’s Test cricket eccentrics. And that’s not a gratuitous attempt to suffix “ball” to come up with a name for the way Pant-Pujara plays

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