CRICKET / He has brought with him much-needed technical excellence to the crease
Cheteshwar Pujara’s conversion rate is excellent. He has crossed the 50-run-mark five times in his fledging Test career and managed to notch up a hundred on four of those occasions. And two of them have been double centuries.
While much has been written about his technical attributes, Pujara’s strength of mind and his calm demeanour in the cauldron have been key elements in the right-hander building lasting edifices.
Filling the great Rahul Dravid shoes can be a huge ask but Pujara appears to possess the right attributes at the crucial No. 3 slot. He can wear down attacks with his patience and then open out.
When he reached the 1000-run mark here on Monday, the 25-year-old Pujara joined the legendary Sunil Gavaskar in terms of Tests — on 11 — for the quickest to the landmark by an Indian.
However, while Gavaskar took 21 innings, Pujara needed only 18. But then Gavaskar played as many as seven Tests — four in the West Indies and three in England — on foreign soil during the period while Pujara has so far figured in only two Tests, both in South Africa, abroad.
Vinod Kambli sped to the 1000-run mark faster if the number of innings is taken into account. The left-hander took 14 innings — four less than Pujara — but reached there in his 12th Test.
It was against Australia, at Bangalore in 2010, that Pujara made his Test debut. His second innings 72 was a match-winning effort.
Two qualities of his caught the eye — he could handle the pressures of a chase in a big game and slice open attacks with his wide range of strokes. Pujara also removed the perception that he was too defensive with his methods.
Pujara failed against South Africa — he averaged just 10.33 in the two-Test series — and was troubled by the combination of movement and bounce. There were times when he was dogged at the crease but could not make his stays count.
The right-hander then missed India’s disastrous campaigns in England and Australia due to a serious knee injury. Fitness concerns threatened his career but the focussed Pujara found his feet again.
The young Saurashtra batsman fought his way back with a match-winning century against New Zealand last year. With a few giants drifting into the sunset, Pujara brought with him much-needed technical excellence to the crease.
He notched up a brilliant unbeaten 206 against England in the first Test at Ahmedabad and finished with a respectable 438 runs from four Tests at 87.60. Although he fell away somewhat during the end of the series as England surged, the promise in him was evident.
Pujara got himself in but failed to kick on in the first Test of the on-going series in Chennai but built a solid edifice for India along with a determined Murali Vijay.
Pujara’s Test average after his first innings effort here against the Aussies stands at 1017 runs from 18 innings at a whopping 67.70. It has been a terrific start for the well-schooled batsman in Tests.
Given his batting methods and temperament — he is a strong player off his back-foot and plays close to his body — there is no reason why Pujara should not build monuments away from the sub-continent as well.
The indications are that he would not go the Vinod Kambli way; the southpaw faded away after a bright start. Pujara is here to stay.