Cheteshwar Pujara
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31: Cheteshwar Pujara of India celebrates reaching his century during the second day of the fourth Specsavers Test Match between England and India at The Ageas Bowl on August 31, 2018 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)

Fighting Back, Pujara’s Way

They said he bats too slowly.

The critics were right. Cheteshwar Pujara’s strike rate outside India in Tests was a meager 41.43 before the fourth Test, better than only Ishant Sharma.

They said he is a poor runner between the wickets.

The critics were right. Seven run-outs in 61 Tests put Pujara at the third spot in the all time list after Rahul Dravid (13) and Sachin Tendulkar (9) . However, Sachin played 200 Tests while Dravid’s tally stands at 163 Tests.

They said he can’t score outside Asia.

The critics were right. In the previous 22 Tests outside the subcontinent, Pujara had scored at an average of 27.17 with only one century. In England, his batting average had dropped down to 23.28 before the fourth Test.

Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped from India’s first Test against England at Edgbaston. He was brought back for the Lord’s Test, where he was run-out for 1 in the first innings and was castled by Broad for 17 in the other.

The 30-year old gifted his wicket away at the stroke of Lunch in the following Test at Nottingham and showed glimpses of form with a steady 72 in the second dig.

A determined Pujara strode out to bat at 37/1 yesterday in the fourth Test at Southampton.

The innings was in the classic Pujara mold. By the time he struck his first boundary, he had scored 5 runs from 35 balls. Pujara began with a gorgeous drive through point off Sam Curran, wafted Stuart Broad over the slip cordon and finished with an exquisite square cut against James Anderson. The Saurashtra batsman was set and confident.
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England then threw up the challenge of Moeen Ali’s off-spin against Pujara. The spinner who would later run through the Indian batting line-up had the help of rough spots caused by Ishant Sharma’s landing left foot. Pujara fended off Ali with his nimble footwork and smothered the spin by advancing swiftly down the track. Adil Rashid’s leg-spin was never much of a challenge.

Things were not so smooth as the other end, though. India lost a heap of wickets in hurry and stumbled down to 195/8 from 142/2. The chances of gaining an unassailable lead soon turned into conceding a significant deficit. At this stage, the number three was batting at 78 from 167 balls.

To their credit, the tail-enders Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah displayed great solidarity and ably supported Pujara in the valuable fightback. India’s last two wickets added 76 runs out of which 54 were scored by Pujara alone.

Batting with the tail, Pujara was prepared to look ugly. The cricketing phrase of ‘looking ugly’ bears a different meaning for someone like Pujara. Other batsmen look ugly when they get defensive against the moving ball, Pujara looks ugly when he attempts the lofted shots, and loft he did.

Pujara’s last 54 runs came in just 90 balls which included seven boundaries, in the process, he brought up his first-ever Test century in England while thinking about running a quick third run.
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When India’s innings folded at 273 with Bumrah losing his wicket to Broad, Pujara remained unbeaten at the other end with a towering inning of 132 not out. He batted with nine batsmen and survived till the end evoking the memories of Rahul Dravid carrying his bat through at Nottingham in 2011 tour amidst the carnage.

The struggle is by no means over. After his first innings heroics, the number three will be a key wicket when India will be chasing a target on a deteriorating pitch. The first essay is over, and the eyes shall once again be on the sturdy batsman from Saurashtra. Pujara now knows how to fight.

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