“Instead of giving up his natural game for the captain’s aggression demands, Pujara should believe in his own game and strengths. That is the only way he will not succumb to pressure like he did in the Centurion Test, and he can find his way forward in Test cricket”.
Rewinding back to 2010, Chesteshwara Pujara was made to fill some of the best shoes in Indian cricket team. He made his way to the side following the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman and eight years have passed since his debut, Pujara has shown glimpses of having characteristics of both Dravid and Laxman. His strength, like Dravid and Laxman, lied in his nature of always playing with a clear head. He has never worried of the run-rate and maiden overs have almost never bothered him. He has literally played with a dead bat, he has played for time and there have been instances when the opposition were left clueless about how Pujara would be dismissed. Amidst all this, more importantly, he scored runs.
Prior to this South Africa tour, there were several people who would have considered Pujara the second best batsman after Virat Kohli who could hold the Indian batting line-up tight, even during the crisis, be it anywhere in the world. However, there were even those set of people who considered the duo of Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara, India would be dependent on during the South Africa series.
By picking Rohit Sharma, for his previous great home performances, ahead of Rahane, the Indian skipper had already indirectly pushed India to the backseat. With that, India were left with only Pujara, who had the temperament and ability to bat calmly for longer hours and frustrate the opposition. Apart from Pujara, the rest of the team can fall in Kohli’s rulebook of doing well in a country like South Africa.
“You can’t be in a zone of not having the intent and see off 35-40 overs. You need to find the perfect balance to do well in South Africa especially where there is more bounce. You can’t just stand there and take whatever is coming your way and not have intent at all. You might get out, but it’s important to keep coming at the bowler and making them feel, ‘If you make an error I am going to score.’ So I think that message needs to go pretty strongly and you need to do that as a batting unit, collectively,”Kohli had said after the Cape Town Test.
The Indian skipper is famous for his aggression and he sure wants to bring that in the team as well. From a winning position in the Cape Town Test, the World No. 1 Test side, India, suffered a collapse in the final innings to lose the first Test. Keeping the fast and bouncy conditions in mind, it cannot be ignored that Kohli would have brainwashed the batsmen to play more boldly and keep ticking the scoreboard as often as possible.
On the contrary, the record of playing India’s longest Test innings belongs to Pujara. He had faced 525 balls and scored 202 runs against Australia at home last year. The guy who strengthen the team with his skills of playing against the run-rate and time was seen going off the mark on the very first delivery he had faced. Watching Pujara not wasting any time in Test cricket is no less than a nightmare and it makes one wonder if everything is fine with him. It cannot be ignored that there is immense pressure in the Indian dressing room and now that they had lost the series, the pressure will be more.
Dismal Pujara outside subcontinent
Pujara’s twin run-outs in the Centurion Test was another testimony to the fact that Pujara is under pressure to prove his credentials. The second runout was a sheer silly call from the No. 3 batsman. In the final innings, as soon as Parthiv Patel poked the ball down to third man, Pujara, standing at the non-striker’s end ran as hard as his dodgy knees would take him. When Patel called for a third run, Pujara, clearly under pressure due to the skipper’s demand of aggressive brand of cricket, barely peeked at who the fielder was with the ball. It was AB de Villiers, who threw the ball to the keeper and a disappointed Pujara walked back to the dugout, failing in fourth innings in a row.
Moreover, Pujara does not play ODIs, T20Is or even the IPL, so he just has Test cricket to survive in cricket and no matter what, he has to deliver in it to keep his place safe. But, with every passing innings, Pujara’s numbers outside the sub-continent have gone bad to worse.
Out of the nine away tours that Pujara has been a part of the Indian team, two have been to Sri Lanka and one to the West Indies. Of the remaining six — thrice to South Africa (including this one), once to England, Australia and New Zealand — India’s No. 3 has scored 895 runs in 16 Tests. Now, if we glance only at his outside sub-continent numbers, suddenly, India’s ‘New Age Wall’s’ place at the No. 3 spot will begin to look questionable.
SA – 19, 10, 2, 25, 153, 70, 32, 26, 4, 0
NZ – 1, 23, 19, 17
ENG – 55, 28, 43, 24, 2, 0, 17, 4, 11
AUS – 73, 21, 18, 43, 25, 21
If we keep his 153 at the Wanderers, when India toured here in December 2013 for two Tests apart, Pujara’s average in the rest of the matches together will not even touch 30. If we consider his average separately, country-wise, he averages 33.50 in Australia, 22.20 in England, 15 in New Zealand and 31 in West Indies.
There are no doubts regarding his abilities. His First-Class runs, 13,625, speak volumes about his potential and to top it, his reputation in the domestic circuit alone earned him his Test debut as India’s No. 3 ahead of legendary Dravid in the latter’s home ground of Bengaluru in 2010. On debut, Pujara had scored 72 and there was no looking back from there. He is in a very tricky place right now. Instead of giving up his natural game for the captain’s aggression demands, Pujara should believe in his own game and strengths. That is the only way he will not succumb to pressure like he did in the Centurion Test, and he can find his way forward in Test cricket.