It was October 2010. Having won the first Test at Mohali narrowly against the mighty Australians, Indians were to chase a stiff target of 207 at Bangalore with Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson firing on all cylinders after dismissing Virender Sehwag. M.S. Dhoni, the captain, made a tactical move by sending the young Cheteshwar Pujara up the order in place of ever-reliable Rahul Dravid. Millions of fans watching the match were stunned by the move of Dhoni. But Pujara proved his mettle by scoring a majestic 72 off 89 balls. With Murali Vijay and Sachin Tendulkar in company he played a scintillating knock and just demolished the Australian bowling attack. Unluckily he was out for 72. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid joined the act after his dismissal and India won the series 2-0. A star was born on October 13, 2010.
With the retirement of Rahul Dravid, Team India was in search of a player to fill the void.
Cheteswar Pujara made his Test debut on October 9, 2010, when the Australians toured India for a two-test series. Pujara was included in place of Yuvraj Singh but was not included in the playing eleven for the first Test. However the youngster made his mark by taking catches at silly point when Laxman went off the field. But in the Bangalore Test, when Gambhir and V.V.S. Laxman were down with injuries, Pujara was brought in. In the first innings he made only four runs and was adjudged LBW to Mitchell Johnson. The second innings is now history.
When the Indians toured England (July-August 2011) and Australia (December 2011-January 2012) , Pujara was out due to injuries. India lost all the eight Test matches played against England and Australia. Given his technique and temperament, everyone is convinced that Pujara would have salvaged some of India’s pride.
Pujara made his Under-19 Test debut for India against England in 2005. Opening the innings, he scored 211 to help India win by an innings and 137 runs. He was picked for the 2006 Under-19 Cricket World Cup after scoring three fifties in four innings in the Afro-Asia Under-19 Cup. He became the highest scorer in the 2006 Under-19 World Cup by amassing 349 runs from 6 innings which includes three fifties and a century at an average of 117. His knock against West Indies in the quarterfinals against the likes of Kemar Roach and Sunil Naraine was one of his best. His century against England in the semifinals enabled India to go through to the finals. Pujara was dismissed early in the finals against Pakistan, which India eventually lost.
Pujara, who plays for Saurashtra, has been a consistent scorer in the domestic circuit after a disastrous first match. He made his first-class debut against Vidharbha on Dec. 17, 2005 in which he made 11 and 14. In his 70 first-class matches, he scored 5,432 runs at an average of 56.82 with 302 being his highest. He scored 17 centuries and 22 half-centuries and took 42 catches. Pujara is one of the best close-in fielders. With this prolific domestic scores, he was selected for Team India against Australia.
When New Zealand toured India (August-September 2012) Pujara scored his maiden Test century (159) in the first Test in Hyderabad and enabled India to beat New Zealand. In the second Test at Bangalore, his scores were 9 and 48. After the Test series against New Zealand, he scored heavily in the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy (two centuries).
In the current series against England Pujara remained at the crease for a very long time negotiating the pace attack of Tim Bresnan, Jimmy Anderson, Staurt Broad and the spin of Graeme Swann and scored his maiden double century (206 not out) in the first innings at Ahmedabad. He continued with a match-winning 41 not out in the second innings. India won the first Test by 9 wickets. He continued his good form in the second Test with another century in the first innings at Mumbai (135) but was dismissed cheaply in the second innings. India lost the Test match by 10 wickets.
Pujara has a sound technique and temperament to stay at the crease for a longer period. When compared with the legendary “Wall”, he said he had a long way to go as Dravid has scored more than 10,000 runs in both forms of the game. Coming at the crucial No.3 spot, he has the ability to hold the middle-order together. He proved that against England in the second Test in Mumbai. He held his nerve with wickets tumbling at the other end and scored a scintillating century in the company of R. Ashwin. In the seven Tests, he has scored 711 runs at an average of 71.10 with three centuries and one 50.
Cheteshwar Pujara has to prove himself overseas. Australia, South Africa and West Indies have bouncy tracks. English conditions are entirely different with the ball swinging both ways. He has to accomplish his feats in these conditions like Rahul Dravid.
India will play Australia after the series against England. These series will fine-tune Pujara to face bigger challenges at overseas conditions.