Published on August 21st, 2018 | by Sarah Waris0
It’s time we leave Cheteshwar Pujara alone🕓 Reading time: 5 minutes
“Test cricket is an amalgamation of cricketers with various styles and outlooks playing together and it is time that one accepts Pujara’s part in it”
In a world that focuses on individuality, it seems rather baffling that cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara has constantly been asked to let go of his distinct trait and adorn the garb of familiarity. Aggressive, brash and attacking. The era that is defined by fast-and-faster innings somehow has no place for Pujara’s snail-paced knocks, with even Virat Kohli commenting on the frustration that the player causes in the dressing room when he is battling it out on the crease.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” goes a familiar quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and true to it, Pujara, despite his mounting naysayers has managed to stick around and grind it out just like he was taught by his father ever since he was a child. With the cricketer not allowed to play with tennis balls as it could possibly hamper his footwork, Pujara imbibed a great sense of obedience where he mastered the art of leaving to perfection.
However, a strike-rate of 47.19 in 59 Tests has attracted its own share of criticism, which is surprising for a cricketer who was touted as the next Rahul Dravid. ‘The Wall’ built his reputation by getting into the match situation and crawling his way up and his batting rate of 42.51 hardly ruffled feathers. In fact, with Virender Sehwag going hammer and tongs at the top and with Sachin Tendulkar having a strike-rate of 54.08, Dravid was much-needed as he turned into an anchor, allowing the other players around him to play their natural game.
But as he walked away into the horizon and as astounding strike-rates in T20s became the norm, a cricketer who could not incorporate the changing demands of the sport into his game was overlooked. Somehow, Kohli’s persona poured over into his style of play and as he became the captain, the same was ordained of his players as well. Hence the importance of players like Pujara who failed to live up to this mindset were often ignored but as the years have rolled on, the value that is added with him around often is understated.
Yes, he plays slow and he is rather ugly to watch. He hardly dominates the bowling and his footwork, especially overseas is iffy. In conditions that swing, Pujara is prone to fail but what about the occasions when he has dug the team out of the abyss? In his 525-ball vigil against Australia at Ranchi last year, Pujara’s knock was the saving grace. Yes, he played slow and to the many who have forgotten that the true art of Test cricket is patience, the number 3 disappointed.
However, with Australia scoring 451 runs in the first innings and with the track hardly promising any demons for the bowlers in the third and fourth innings, a huge score by India was imperative. Starting off Day 3 with a strike-rate of 25.67, Pujara helped negate the advantage that Australia were so desperately looking for. Once the initial threat had worn away, the player went into an overdrive, striking at 75.26 in the second session at Ranchi on Day 3, which was brought down to 21.88 once Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane were dismissed with India still needing 148 runs.
What if Pujara had played “fast” then? India could have taken a 50-run lead but what if Australia approached the second innings by counter-attacking and India had 250-odd to chase in the final session? The lead of 152 that India had gained mentally bogged Australia down and though Pujara was attacked then, he had played his part in saving the game for India.
Fast-forward to Johannesburg earlier this year, when Pujara once again unleashed his Dravidesque side whilst batting. In one of the toughest pitches, that was later even reported by the ICC, Pujara took 54 deliveries to get off the mark, which was followed by its own ridicule. Partnering Kohli on a wicket that offered pace, lateral movement and bounce, patience was the way to go, more so after India had been reduced to 13 for 2. The right-hander, realizing the importance of his wicket, refrained from driving in the first two sessions and left everything that was pitched outside the off stump.
By patiently building his knock of 50 in 179 balls, Pujara showed the art of hanging around – something that is amiss in Tests recently. With the other batsmen in the line-up looking out of sorts, the partnership between Pujara and Kohli was crucial and long after the latter had been dismissed, the responsibility fell on Pujara’s shoulders to take India to a formidable target.
What if he had played “fast” then? The target of 187 that proved match-winning would have eluded India and even a lead of 50 would have pushed South Africa into the driver’s seat. His knock was invaluable, though the criticism was what followed.
Against England in the ongoing Test match, after scoring a 208-ball 78 Pujara has once again thrown himself into the war zone. James Anderson was on fire in the first session on Day 3 and with plenty of time available, the motto was simple – bat England out of the game. Facing 29 of his first 58 deliveries from the fiery bowler in the first hour of play was not going to be an easy task, but by doing what he does best, Pujara navigated through the initial period with ease.
It is not to say that the player can’t score “fast”. With Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid bowling in tandem in the last session on Day 2, Pujara got off to 25 in 26 balls before ensuring no further casualties by stumps. Starting over with Kohli, the batsman was on his toes and by the time his innings ended, the 159-run partnership had done more than enough to psychologically dent the English unit. By absorbing the pressure early on and not giving England many wicket-taking opportunities, Pujara ensured that his side had nullified the threat of the bowlers by wearing them out. Once that was achieved, he continued playing his normal game even as Kohli from the other end picked up pace.
What if Pujara had been dismissed early? How can it be so certain that the other players in the unit would have risen to the occasion? A wicket brings with it two more is a popular belief and collapses are no stranger to Indian cricket. The cricketer might look uncertain at times, but where did the concept of sticking to one’s natural game vanish?
Just as a spectator would hate to see Pandya play 100 balls for 40, Pujara too has his own game plan, which has proven successful for India in the recent past. With KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Kohli and Pandya all capable of striking the ball big, Pujara provides variety and does stick around when he the condition is unfavourable to the other players. He looked solid at Lord’s before being run-out, and strangely his services were missed when he was dropped in a bizarre move from the first Test at Edgbaston. If he had churned out yet another typical Pujara innings then, maybe just maybe, he would have been judged yet again.
Test cricket is an amalgamation of cricketers with various styles and outlooks playing together and it is time that one accepts Pujara’s part in it.