Cheteshwar Pujara has all the time in the world, all the heart that is needed, all the humility that is required, and all the will to just bat, bat and bat.
Adelaide: Let’s take a moment to talk about Cheteshwar Pujara.
After all, in the lead up to the first Australia-India Test match in Adelaide, we were obsessed with Virat Kohli’s purple patch as a batsman, Prithvi Shaw’s unfortunate injury, the combination India was likely to play, and forgot all about this man Pujara.
To be fair, it’s not that difficult to do, as he flies well under the radar without meaning to. He’s the only batsman in this Indian Test squad without an IPL contract; he bears no tattoos and wears no bling; he appears in no advertisements and does not have his own clothing line.
What Pujara has is all the time in the world, all the heart that is needed, all the humility that is required, and all the will to just bat, bat and bat.
The toughest of his 16 tons
On a day when India’s batting billionaires played like showing intent meant hitting the cover off the ball, being aggressive translated to taking on bowlers when there was no chance of succeeding, and showing the kind of adventurism best left to bungee jumpers, Pujara scored, perhaps, the toughest century of the 16 he has made in Tests.
Pujara faced 231 balls and 176 of them he did not score off. No, he did not fail to score off these deliveries, it was more like he realised that the risk-reward ratio just did not justify attempting such a task.
He was in control against pace — and three bowlers cranking it up past 140 km/h is not something ever seen in Rajkot — and assured against spin, whether going right back in his crease or coming down the pitch.
The key to this, of course, was that Pujara trusted his defence, while his colleagues didn’t back themselves to be a little patient and cash in when the time came. The best example of this came in a passage of play when the bowlers were right on top. Off the fourth ball of the 20th over, Pujara scored his 11th run. He waited till the first ball of the 34th over to move to 12. He faced 32 balls in a 13.3 over period in which he did not score a run.
But to watch Pujara show caution against the wiles of Josh Hazlewood, grit against the pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, and enterprise against Nathan Lyon when the offie was at his best was far from boring. It was enthralling, gripping Test cricket, the kind that defines what is unique and special about a match that lasts five days and can still end without an outright winner. It also epitomised Pujara, the batsman whom time forgot in many ways.
Before you think Pujara bored the Australians into submission, here are some numbers to take in: Pujara has reached 3,000 runs in 67 Test innings, 4,000 in 84 innings and 5,000 in 108 innings. Who else reached the same milestones in exactly the same number of innings? One Rahul Dravid.
While Dravid is hailed as one of India’s best batsmen in overseas conditions, Pujara is categorised as a flat-track bully at home who has yet to prove himself overseas. While it is true that he is a legend of sorts in home conditions, this only serves to make Pujara’s considerable performances overseas appear diminished in comparison. And this is something he has thought about.
When asked about ticking the England and Australia boxes with centuries in Southampton and now Adelaide, there was an air of irritation — if he is even capable of such an emotion — in the reply.
“It means a lot but I would also like to say that people have always said that I have scored more runs in India but at the same time, you also need to look at the number of matches we play in India. If we have played a number of matches in India, obviously I will score runs there,” said Pujara.
“At times, I have had a bad phase playing overseas but I still feel very confident playing in different conditions and playing county cricket has helped me a lot. Playing in England, conditions are always challenging, and when you come to Australia, you know that pitches are slightly better and as I said, I had decent time to prepare before the Test series.”
He left the words unsaid, but the meaning was clear: I’ve not scored as heavily as I would have liked to overseas, but does this mean I should stop piling on the runs at home just because it makes the comparison look worse?
On the day, it was only Pujara’s 123 that kept India in the game, and it hardly mattered how much time he took or how few gorgeous shots he hit.
And, when you take into account the fact that he only took three balls to get from 89 to his century, the period in which batsmen typically get stuck longest, worrying about a personal milestone, you have the portrait of a Test cricketer as a team man.
Anand Vasu is a freelance journalist. He tweets @anandvasu
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