Before the start of this summer’s tour to England, Cheteshwar Pujara has played 19 Tests, scoring 1,650 runs in the process at an average of nearly 60. However, it is not just purely weight of runs and the quickness with which Pujara has adapted to Test cricket that has led to him becoming feted in India and across the cricketing community as the next ‘wall’ for India to build their batting line-up around.
Ever since Pujara’s Test debut against Australia in 2010, in which he made a composed 72 in a successful run chase, he has been touted as the next Rahul Dravid. High praise indeed, and with that level of praise comes even greater expectation.
Pujara, however, has dealt with the pressure of the great Dravid lurking in the shadows and has continued to bat in a beautifully unflustered manner. His demeanour at the crease is unflappable and he appears to have an age to play the ball; waiting until the last moment to drop the bat down for a textbook forward defensive.
From the little I’ve seen of Pujara in interviews, the Dravid comparisons off the field are not unfair either. He appears to be a studious young player who appreciates the primacy of Test cricket, and in the modern era, I find this outlook refreshing.
Perhaps it is not just tradition that precipitates Pujara’s preference for the long form of the game. His technique is expertly suited to stand up to the rigours of five-day cricket. He stands tall at the crease and lines up in perfect position; he also plays the ball extremely late (a rarity for a sub continental player), and this is a trait which should stand him in good stead ahead of the series with England.
Despite the pitch at Trent Bridge on day one appearing to be flat and slow, it is still important to play the ball right under your nose, particularly when England can call upon one of the best swing bowlers in the world in James Anderson.
Pujara’s technique is not the only facet of his game that has allowed him to succeed at the top level so early in his career. He has always had a liking for spending time at the crease, and made history in October last year, as he guided his way to three triple-centuries in a month.
A first-class batting average of in excess of 60 after 93 matches is mightily impressive and proves his dedication to making big runs and batting for long periods. Pujara is only the ninth batsmen in the history of the game to score three first-class triple centuries, and at the age of only 26, he is well positioned to score many more.
Despite not making a hatful of runs on winter tours to New Zealand and South Africa, Pujara acquitted himself well and proved he could take on the best bowlers in the world as he made 153 in the second innings at Johannesburg against Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.
Once again Pujara showed during his first Test innings on English soil that he has the temperament and technique to succeed in all conditions. He may have only made 38 on the first day at Trent Bridge but he looked in total control and exuded a quiet calm confidence at the crease, until a spectacular catch from Ian Bell cut his innings short.
If I was a betting man, I would be very confident in backing Pujara to be India’s top batsmen in the series. His composure at the crease and ability to adapt to situations, coupled alongside India’s inexperienced top order would make him my pick to be leading the way for his side.
The only worry for Pujara and India is that he has thus far in his career, scored at a sedate pace while being in his own bubble at the crease. While there is nothing wrong with a batsman taking his time to assess the situation, if India require quick runs during a third or fourth innings of a match, perhaps Pujara may become a little one dimensional. This is however, a very minor criticism, and in my opinion, he should continue to bat in the manner in which has been so successful for him over the last two years.
A lot of Indian cricket fans are heaping pressure on Virat Kohli to lead their batting line up and to take on the mantle of Tendulkar. Meanwhile, Pujara is compared to Dravid for his composure at the crease and propensity for run scoring.
It may well be, that in truth, Pujara is far closer than Kohli to emulating his predecessor.
© Cricket World 2014