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India vs Australia Test series: The importance of Cheteshwar Pujara in Virat Kohli’s side


A four and a six to get to 99 is not a usual sight when Cheteshwar Pujara is batting. But on Thursday at the Adelaide Oval, the batsman controlled the proceedings at his own will. When somebody needed to hang on, he did.  Once out of partners, he took Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to the cleaners, perhaps chasing a 250 in the head.

Pujara’s 123 off 246 balls (at a strike rate of 50.00) against Australia in the first Test raised his overseas stakes. He can be the dependable guy when Virat Kohli fails; much like how Rohit Sharma balances the act in the limited-overs.

But the debate, at times leading to his axe, for being a slow coach should be laid to rest. He has gathered enough footage for a rebuttal. The old-school approach has been a blessing in disguise for India on a few occasions in the last 11 months, especially when the top order has failed to deliver the goods.

Pujara is one of the few batsmen in the current Indian side who has a solid Test pedigree. He derives happiness from dots, leaving the ball outside off gracefully.

Pujara’s rescue acts

1st innings: 50 off 179 balls (at a strike rate of 27.93) against SA in Johannesburg. He added 84 runs for the third wicket with Virat Kohli after India was reeling at 13/2. For the fifth wicket, he added 31 runs with Parthiv Patel.

Result: India won by 63 runs

2nd innings: 72 off 208 balls (at a strike rate of 34.61) against England in Nottingham. He added 113 runs for the third wicket with Virat Kohli.

Result: India won by 203 runs

1st innings: 132 not out off 257 balls (at a strike rate of 51.36). He added 92 runs for the third wicket with Virat Kohli. With the tail, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, he added 32 and 46 runs for the ninth and tenth wicket respectively.

Result: India lost by 60 runs

 

— Solid temperament —

Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak refers to him as somebody who is “too good a player”.

Pujara and Kotak spent some time in the initial part of the Indian domestic season. Before the tour of Australia, Pujara scored a fifty (56 off 116 balls) against Chhattisgarh last month.

The batsman picked up a minor injury — a stiff neck — and did not bat in the second innings. “But he was ready to come out,” Kotak lauds his temperament.

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“His plus point is his mental strength. Today’s innings was outstanding because India was struggling. It was his nature, temperament all put together,” he said.

Talking about the Ranji innings, Kotak added: “He had to retire hurt when he was in the 30s, but he told me, ‘if I am required, I will go’. He went in and scored a fifty.”

— Footwork and shot selection —

The way Pujara handled Nathan Lyon in the sultry weather, at times coming down the track for just a single, summarises the class he is. It is his feet that does half the job, feels Kotak.

“His footwork against spinners is too good. That is his strongest area. Against pacers, he knows the right ball to score from. The step out game against the spinners is a delight,” he said.

In a recent interview with Sportstar, Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar sulked that good old Test cricket doesn’t have enough fan base among the millennials.

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“Well Test matches, somehow I feel that…today’s generation is used to a fast game. If you see, a 15-year-old kid would be watching highlights of IPL or Twenty20 matches or ODIs…where the batsmen are hitting sixes and fours.

“How many of them would actually watch a spell where only four runs have been scored in four overs. How many would watch, a backfoot defence or solid frontfoot defence. They want to see action and that’s what it is,” Tendulkar pointed.

With his potential, Pujara is capable of restoring Tests; the balls — pink or red — wouldn’t uproot the tent he sets.

Results are needed in India’s favour. Winners are never forgotten.





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