The uniqueness of Cheteshwar Pujara

Sometimes watching Cheteshwar Pujara bat can be a long ordeal for his fans. Particularly when you want him to do well. Before he scored a wonderful hundred in the Southampton test,  Pujara’s place and indeed his ability overseas was constantly being questioned. As a fan, you wanted him to score runs desperately- a fifty – a seventy five- if a hundred was not possible.  That would ensure that he would not be dropped for the next couple of tests (though you are never sure with the current Indian team management).As his fan you felt the tension when he was batting.  Fans cried- Come on Cheteshwar-Score runs- quickly if possible- and relieve us of the tension. One would think that the pressure on him would even be more. But Pujara is least bothered about everything. All he wants to do is the bat the way he normally does. He takes a while to score his first ten runs. And takes some  more time to score his twenty. And some more to get to thirty and so on. Why last year in South Africa he took 54 balls to get off the mark. Is Pujara off the mark – I kept checking the sore only to realize he wasn’t. Took him an hour and a half to get his first runs. He batted for three hours more to score an invaluable half century which helped India win an overseas test.   Cheteshwar Pujara is not bothered about what anybody else feels. He will score runs in his own style and play the game in his own way.

He is a unique cricketer Pujara. Unfortunately greatness in batting is determined not just by the runs you score but also the manner in which the runs are scored. Hence the space at the top of the greatness batting tree is occupied by batsmen who had the ability to tear apart bowling attacks- batsmen with the range of strokes that would mesmerize the world. That is fair enough. Anybody who has played the game at any level will tell you that playing strokes requires a bit more an ability then just defending. Hence the likes of Richards, Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting, Kohli are considered a level above other batsmen. These batsmen had the ability to destroy good bowling attacks on their day. Pujara suffers in comparison. You will remember the strokes in a Virst Kohli innings and write paragraphs about them. Very rarely will you remember a Cheteshwar Pujara innings.

But make no mistake Pujara is a special cricketer. It requires a special ability to remain disciplined under pressure. It requires a special ability to keep playing your game and not waver under pressure. It requires a very special ability to absorb pressure, slowly build your innings and then get yourself and your team in a strong position. It will be unfortunate if the value of such a cricketer is not realized only because he cannot play some of the strokes that his colleagues can.

At the Wanderers, at the Rose Bowl, at Adelaide, at Melbourne, at Sydney and even in the Ranji Trophy semifinal concluded today, Pujara came into bat with his side in trouble. He came into bat when the bowlers were on top and the ball was playing all sorts of tricks. At Adelaide, India were 40/4 and 120/7 but Pujara stayed put, took blows and scored a match winning hundred. At the Wanderers, he took 54 balls to open his account when the ball was flying but then scored an invaluable half century which helped India win a low scoring game. At Melbourne, fresh from a defeat at Perth, Pujara stabilized the Indian batting and ensured a big first innings score which lead to a famous victory. His hundred at Southampton against Anderson and Broad should also have won India the game but India just fell short.  Hundred against Rabada, Morkel and Philander. Hundred against Anderson, Broad and Stokes. Hundreds against Cummins, Hazelwood and Starc. Not many cn boasts of such a record. Pujara is one of the greats of the game.
Fans of Pujara will now know that his batting is not a long ordeal- it is a process defined in his head. Usually this defined process leads  him to success.


This piece comes very late in the day but what a brilliant two months it has been for Indian cricket. Winning a test series in Australia was something that had never been achieved before and the jinx (if there was any) has finally been broken. India probably should have won in 77/78 and would have won with a little bit more imagination in 85/86 and 2003/2004. But a series win kept eluding India and it took Virat Kohli and his wonderful team to scale the cricketing Everest.

Australia, without Warner and Smith, were weak, but even weak Australian teams are also very hard to beat. Several teams have been unable to beat an Australian team missing its key players including India who failed to win the series in 2003-2004 when Australia were without Warne and Mcgrath. Beating any Australian team in Australia is tough task (as the Sri Lankans are finding out as I write) and this Indian victory  is one of the most significant victories in the history of Indian cricket.

Apart from 2003-2004, Australian tours have had a predictable pattern for most fans of the Indian Cricket team. Disastrous collapses, occasional brilliant individual performance, some good bowling spells but fairly one side contests with India at the receiving end. 91-92 was one of the earliest tours that I followed and watched and everything about Australian cricket blew me (and many others of my age over). The fielding and the running between the wickets of the likes of Dean Jones and Allan Border. The incredible television coverage and commentary ( Chapel, Benaud, Lawry, Grieg and Cozier), the kind of which I had never experienced before. The grounds, the pace of the game, the stump microphone, the colour clothing, all created an aura and appeal for Australia that  has never gone away. The 1999/2000 tour was depressing, India losing  all the test matches and all but one ODI without even a fight. 2011 was similarly depressing- a tour which signaled the end of Dravid and Laxman and the beginning of the end of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir.  I have fond memories of the 2003-2004 tour- the brilliance of Laxmand and his cover drives and flicks- Rahul Dravid and Adelaide- Sehawg and Boxing Day- Tendulkar and Sydney. Virat Kohli reached amazing batting heights in 2015 and the memories of his batting and his partnership with Ajinkya Rahane in the Boxing Day test will linger in the memory for ever. But India had never dominated and won a test series in Australia in the manner that they have done this time and hence 2018-2019 will be a special memory for Indian Cricket fans.


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