“Cheteshwar Pujara was in dire need of a resurrection act and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2018/19 has just provided him with that just like it did for Kohli in 2014/15”
Virat Kohli was going into the 2014/15 tour of Australia on the back of a horrible tour of England. His weakness against seam and swing movement had seen him succumbing to James Anderson again and again for just 134 runs in 10 innings.
He had already established his credentials as a Test player having scored 1730 runs in 25 matches at 44.35 by then, which included centuries in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well.
But the tour of England in 2014 exposed his weakness and showed the world that he still had a long way to go in order to become a proper Test player. Many pundits had called it to be a career-threatening failure and had also expressed doubts about his place in the squad for the following tour of Australia. Many people had predicted the same outcome for him in that tour Down Under as he had in England.
But what followed afterwards shut everyone up. Kohli bossed the entire series scoring 692 runs in 8 innings at 86.50, which included four centuries as well. He was India’s highest run scorer in the entire series and the second highest behind Steve Smith.
The next best run tally by an Indian batsman in that series was 481 by Murali Vijay. While batsmen like Vijay and others had fought every ball and every minute they faced, Kohli dominated every minute of the series wielding the bat in his hands like a weapon of mass destruction. India couldn’t win the series due to short-comings in their bowling department but the series had given India something invaluable. It had resurrected Kohli’s Test career once again and threw him in the quest of being the greatest batsman across formats once again.
Four years down the line, Kohli is a conqueror and India is a force to reckon with. They were coming into the tour of Australia with eyes on their first ever series victory Down Under this time. Kohli was once again expected to ooze class with the bat after showing what he is capable of in the preceding series in South Africa and England.
Little did anyone expect that it would rather turn out to a mediocre series for him with someone else stealing the limelight. At the conclusion of the series, he is the third highest run-getter for India and also in the series. His tally of 282 runs, which included one century in 7 innings, at 40.28 is by no means bad. But the Border-Gavaskar Trophy had plans of resurrecting another struggling Indian player this time and the spotlight was going to be his for the entirety of the series.
He is none other than Cheteshwar Pujara. Overseas ghosts had haunted him continuously this year. The right-handed batsman came into the series on the back of a poor performance in South Africa—100 runs in six innings at 16.66—and an inconsistent outing in England where he amassed 278 runs at 39.71. He scored a century there but his performances in rest of the innings were not up to the mark at all.
He had already been dropped in one of the Tests in England and this series against Australia was probably going to be his last chance if he failed once again. But the series was going to be a defining point in Pujara’s career just like it turned out for Kohli four years back.
Just like Kohli, Pujara had already proven his credentials as a Test batsman before this series having amassed 5099 runs in 65 matches at an average of 50.48. But the previous two series had exposed his flaws and weaknesses and had made him a fallen figure.
He was in dire need of a resurrection act and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2018/19 has just provided him with that just like it did for Kohli in 2014/15.
At the end of the series, India have the first ever series victory on Australian soil and Pujara has 521 runs in 7 innings at 74.42, numbers way ahead of others in the series. The next best is Rishabh Pant’s 350 runs at 58.33 with Kohli’s 282 being the third best. Even the best by an Australian batsman is just 258 runs by Marcus Harris.
He started the series with an innings saving knock of 123 at Adelaide, which turned out to be a match-winning one as well, and finished the job with a dominating 193 at Sydney. There was a determined knock of 106 on a slow Melbourne track between those two mesmerizing knocks as well. What he did in this series was only batting, batting and batting and wore the opposition down with his patience, determination and perseverance.
Facing 1258 deliveries in a series is no child’s play against a world class bowling attack. The importance of the act could be understood from the fact that the next highest number of deliveries faced by a batsman in the series was only 684 by Kohli. So, Pujara stayed at the crease for almost double the number of deliveries faced by India’s best batsman.
Each of his centuries came at a time when the ship needed to be steadied after India had lost early wickets. Each time he walked out to bat early and probably was one of the last batsmen to get out. So, that sums up how important his act was for India and at the end, it has turned out to be the main difference between the two sides.
This series has now given Pujara’s career a new lease of life and has shown his real potential and ability as a batsman. It has shown that the Indian batting unit is not all about Kohli. In fact, there is someone like Pujara too, who is probably India’s most valuable Test asset. It remains to be seen whether Pujara can go on to be the same conqueror in the time ahead like Kohli went on to become four years back, but one thing is for sure that nobody can question Pujara’s value in the team anymore.