Senior Test batsman Cheteshwar Pujara defended the timings of India’s second innings declaration in the first Test against South Africa at Visakhapatnam. He said that the hosts did not want to start the fifth and final day with a soft semi new-ball.

India declared their second innings at 323/4 late in the day leaving South Africa 13 overs on the penultimate day and the full final day to chase the near impossible 395-run target. At stumps on Day 4, the tourists finished at 11/1 with Ravindra Jadeja removing first innings centurion Dean Elgar for just 2.

“It was. We did not want to bowl too many overs because we wanted to keep the ball hard for start of day five. You don’t want to end up bowling too many overs and once the ball gets soft, it gets slightly easier to bat,” Pujara said when asked if the timing of the declaration was right.

“We picked up a crucial wicket (Dean Elgar). So as a team, we are happy with the way things went today,” explained the Saurashtra batsman, who scored a crucial 81 and was involved in a 169-run partnership with twin centurion Rohit Sharma.

Pujara reckoned batting on the fifth day track will be no easy feat. “Hopefully, on day five, this pitch wouldn’t be easy to bat on and there will be a little more assistance for spinners. We have already seen that the pitch offers variable bounce, so the fast bowlers will also come into play. I think so there is enough rough for spinners and the cracks will open up bit more on day five,” he said.

He expects Jadeja to exploit the variable bounce the pitch has on offer.

“There will be more bounce for the spinners, from the rough. If we see the variable bounce for Jaddu (Jadeja) in that delivery against Elgar, I think the ball hit the crack and kept little low. So, if there is variable bounce, I think the spinners will enjoy hitting the ball on the cracks. But fast bowlers will be difficult to play on these cracks,” said Pujara.

Elaboating on the conditions in the middle, he said: “It was a difficult pitch to bat on. It was not easy to rotate the strike and it was not easy to time the ball well and especially with my game and the kind of shots that I play, I was finding it little difficult early on. I knew that I once I was set, I will able to know the pace of the pitch.

“Once I knew that (pace of the pitch), I actually changed by point of impact little later on. Yes, earlier on it was bit difficult but once I realized that, I played a few shots and obviously with the same technique.”

Rohit batting at an impressive strike-rate helped Pujara to settle down.

“The way Rohit was batting, I felt we were scoring at a decent pace and I could take some extra time to settle down. He batted really well in the first innings also but in the second innings, situation was different. (Especially), to play all those strokes that he did on this wicket. Our partnership was crucial. Our communication was good as he we have batted together since our under-19 days.”

“It was a joy to watch him bat. Hitting sixes is his strength, he has excelled in white ball cricket. The way he hits sixes is incredible and and as a Test batsman, who wants to improve his ODI and T20 cricket, there is lots to learn from him. Especially, when it comes to hitting the ball out of the park,” added Pujara.