Cheteshwar Pujara : The Humble Warrior’s Struggle, Comebacks, Purple Patch And More
“If you think I am a modern day kind of a bloke, then you are absolutely wrong. For you it may be success, glamour or money, but for me it’s persistence, perseverance and a nothing but a zeal to get my team over the line without seeking anything in return. My name is Cheteshwar Pujara and I do, what I do!”
The best available modern day persona to represent proper copybook class, determination and moreover, the humility. Cheteshwar Pujara is one of a kind.
India had seen its Tendulkars, Dravids and Laxmans. Gone are the days when Test Cricket used to attract a full house even on working Mondays. In this era of high scoring white ball cricket and glamorous T20 leagues around the world, maybe, Test Cricket is losing it’s charm somewhere. Or maybe people are losing their charm as fans to watch cricket in a way it should be watched. Finding a typical test batsman, who doesn’t go for muscle power slogs, who doesn’t try to play cheeky shots behind the wicket, is very rare these days. There comes India’s Cheteshwar Arvinda Pujara.
No IPL, No ODIs and still Pujara has carved his way through to 57 Test matches. A Test career already as long as his name. But just like Rahul Dravid used to get overshadowed in the early days of his career by Sachin’s aura, Ganguly’s aggression and Laxman’s wrists, Cheteshwar Pujara too is hidden somewhere behind Kohli’s flamboyance and Rahane’s grit. Pujara hasn’t yet got the recognition and the reputation he deserves. Will he ever get it? Not sure, for that Test Cricket itself has to get that reputation back.
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Pujara first came into major limelight when he became the leading run scorer in U-19 World Cup 2006, scoring 349 runs in six innings including three fifties and a century. After consistently performing in First -Class cricket, Pujara finally got a chance to make his debut against Australia in the second match of two-Test series at Bengaluru. And it just took him a couple of innings to show what he is capable of doing in Test Cricket. When India were chasing 207 in fourth innings of second Test, a tactical move by MS Dhoni to send Pujara at three ahead of Rahul Dravid worked well for Pujara as well as for Team India. Pujara scored a resolute 72 in just the second innings of his career and laid the foundation for a comfortable chase.
Later, Pujara toured South Africa in 2010-11 with the Indian team and hadn’t had a very good series with his highest score being 19 in three innings. But MS Dhoni praised him post match after the low scoring second Test which India won to level the series 1-1. Dhoni was impressed with Pujara’s resistance at the crease and said he got out in an unlucky fashion (played-on). Pujara missed almost an year of cricket due to an injury and made his comeback in the test team in 2012.
A rejuvenated Pujara kept scoring runs like a walk in the park and became the second fastest Indian to score 1000 Test runs in just 11 matches. India toured South Africa in 2013 and making up for his last South Africa tour, Pujara was the highest run scorer in that series scoring 280 runs at an average of 70 with a highest score of 153. Though India lost the series 0-1, there was a lot of promise shown by young batsmen like Pujara, Kohli and Rahane. Cheteshwar Pujara ended up scoring more than 2000 runs in First-Class cricket in 2013 at an whopping average of 102.15, and became only the second batsman to do so in a year, after Australia’s Chris Rogers.
High on confidence, India toured England and started the series with a bang winning the Lord’s Test and going 1-0 up after two matches. Many people remember India’s rare overseas victory at Lord’s for Rahane’s hundred, Vijay’s 95 or Ishant Sharma’s 7-wicket haul. But few remember Pujara’s contribution in both innings. Test Cricket isn’t just about hitting fours and sixes and scoring at a healthy strike rate. At times, on a wicket as greenish as lord’s was in this test, the best shot to offer could also be a ‘well-left’. After losing Dhawan early Pujara, high on concentration and stand-still at crease, saw off the new ball almost alone scoring 28(117) before getting out in post lunch session. Pujara himself dissected almost 20 overs alone of high class swing bowling from Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Later batting got relatively bit easier than in the morning session and Rahane helped India score 295 marking his name on the lord’s honours board. Pujara also scored 43 in the crucial third innings.
“Pujara is the gladiator who leads from the front and still gets blamed for not killing any of the enemies while no one notices the hundreds of bullets he soaked in his chest which could have killed as many from his crew.”
Though in the following Test matches Pujara as well as Indian team couldn’t do much and lost the series 1-3 with Pujara having a very mediocre series with 222 runs from five Tests. Later, India toured Australia and Pujara was dropped from the playing-XI in Virat Kohli’s first Test match as India’s full time captain. Pujara was unable to convert his starts into big scores. Rohit Sharma replaced Pujara at three and scored a fifty in a drawn Test which fixed his place in the team for next series at least. Though Pujara was not among runs, the decision of dropping him was a surprise as Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri mentioned about Pujara’s slow strike rate.
Pujara didn’t get a chance in the first 2 Tests against Sri Lanka. The series was levelled at 1-1. Thanks to the injuries to the openers and Rohit Sharma’s dodgy form at 3, Virat Kohli and Shastri were left with no option but to include Pujara in the XI and asked him to open on a green top. There were rain distractions, there were halts in the play, covers were coming on and off but Pujara kept batting. He was timing the ball sweetly. It was surely going to be the most crucial innings of Pujara’s career.
From the commentary box, Sunil Gavaskar was talking about the virtues of scoring with a healthy strike rate in Test Cricket. Many people find Sunny Gavaskar an annoying commentator, and rightly so, they don’t find him irritating for nothing. The guy who once scored 36*(174) in an ODI chase was talking about the benefits of scoring with higher strike rates in Test cricket and how Rohit Sharma could be a better option at 3 than Pujara. For God’s sake, Mr Gavaskar, why can’t you just keep Test cricket away from limited overs cricket and stop being so cringe. with India at 135-5, Sunny said, a fifty here won’t do it for Pujara, a hundred or a big hundred is required at least. Maybe, he forgot he was on air, and not in a casual talk with Ravi Shastri.
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Well, Pujara stood like a rock, unbreakable and non-absorbable, kept batting and just kept batting. He was not just batting against a Sri Lankan team, but was batting against an agenda, a propaganda, he was batting against a certain set of people who wanted to prove that ‘aggression’ is probably more important than scoring runs in Test cricket. Scoring 145*, Pujara became only the fourth India batsman to carry his bat through the innings. And thus, Pujara arrived at Colombo in style, with a sublime touch, with a determination like never before, amidst all the turmoil.
A batsman of Pujara’s stubbornness and caliber, should always be a Test mainstay and not an optional discard. Pujara is surely one of the last remaining instances of typical test batsmanship.
Later on West Indies tour in 2016, after Pujara’s 46 (159) in second test, Pujara was dropped again for the same bizarre reason of not striking the ball at a par imaginary rate. India started their long home season and coach Anil Kumble openly backed Pujara and hailed him as one of India’s finest Test players at present.
India were 0-1 down against Australia in the home series and struggling in the second Test at Bengaluru too. A home series loss was around the corner. Pujara probably played the most impactful innings of his career, a crucial 91 in the third innings which helped India to a post a significant target. In the third test Pujara scored the third double hundred of his career, an 11-hour long marathon knock of 202 (525). It was the longest Innings by an Indian batsman in terms of number of balls faced. Pujara is a slow death that tortures you and kills you eventually. Pujara achieved a career best number two in the ICC’s Test batsman ratings. In Virat Kohli’s Yo-Yo fitness era of Indian Cricket, Pujara might not have those bulging biceps and six-pack abs, but he has the fitness and stamina to play marathon Test innings and field at short-leg/silly-point, and that makes him what he actually is.
On a lighter note, as a tweet suggested after this test:
‘Pujara has everything that needs to become a great test bastman – technique, temperament and the ability to bore the crowd to death.’
A batsman like Sehwag or a Gilchrist can score at around run a ball in Test cricket and can demoralise the opposition by the threat of putting them out of the game in no time. But also the opposition have equal opportunities to get the batsman out if he scores this freely and puts risk on his game. But a batsman like Pujara also puts a more demoralising, as well as a depressing, effect on the opposition. He won’t throw his wicket away. You have to keep bowling in the channel for so long and still no guarantee of getting him out. Like I said, it’s a slow painful death that eventually get you tired and kills you. And his records validates these further, Pujara averages 50.51, 54.98 and 55.40 in Test Cricket, First Class and List-A respectively. Pujara also became the ninth batsman in the world to bat on all five days of a Test match, he achieved this in the rain affected 1st test against Sri Lanka in 2017. Nothing sums up Che Pujara’s batting persona and resistance, or as we can call it ‘Chesistance’ , more than this feat. Because of his not so long run with IPL and Indian ODI side Pujara kept setting the domestic circuit on fire at times. In 2017, he scored his record 12th double century in FC Cricket (most by an Indian batsman) and he also has three scores of 300+ in FC Cricket which is also most by an Indian along with his Saurashtra teammate Ravindra Jadeja who also has three triple centuries.
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On India’s South Africa tour in 2018, Pujara was at his typical best in the 3rd test, scoring 50 (179) on a green top after India made a brave decision of bating first. Eventually India won the match to make this series 1-2. Pujara got run-out twice in the second Test and nothing could be more disappointing for a batsman than getting run-out in Test cricket, and to make it even worse, twice in a match.
Apart from on field cricket Pujara started a free cricket academy in his hometown Rajkot, Gujarat. He doesn’t take a single penny from his students. He said:
“I was lucky that I have my father who looked after me and my cricket but there are many here who just can’t afford this sport”. T
here is a reason why he is one of the nicest indian cricketers around.
Recently, Pujara in his stint with Yorkshire had a very poor county season, not managing a single score of fifty. Anyhow he got some form back in the Royal London One-day Cup with consecutive scores of 82, 73, 101, 75* etc. Also, Pujara has been criticised for lacking temperament to perform in overseas conditions. But when we look back at the only two Test matches India has won overseas (excluding West Indies), Pujara played a crucial part in both of them under the toughest circumstances. It shows how much India’s fortunes depend on him. In the past he has failed to convert many starts into big scores. Hopefully in the coming long overseas season he will be able to better his record. And yes, I would love to repeat it again – batsmen like Che Pujara can make Test cricket great again.
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