Cheteshwar Pujara has made the 292-player shortlist and will now go under the hammer at the IPL 2021 auction. February 18, a day after he finishes playing the second India vs England Test, is when he’ll learn his fate as an IPL player.
Although Cheteshwar Pujara has played 30 IPL matches, he last featured in the competition in 2014. He has gone unsold numerous times since then. Looking at his record in the tournament, you wouldn’t be surprised, though. He has scored just 390 runs at an average of 20.52. Even more alarming is his strike rate of 99.74, which is not par for the course.
However, that hasn’t dampened Cheteshwar Pujara’s IPL ambitions. Fresh from his heroics in Australia, India’s Test rock was asked about his IPL aspirations.
“Definitely want to be part of the IPL. Given an opportunity, I am confident I'll be able to do well," Cheteshwar Pujara had replied.
Think Cheteshwar Pujara, and one remembers his defiant knocks in Australia, his gritty fifties, the body blows he coped up and the hours he spent at the crease. However, those aren’t the things associated with a top-order IPL batsman, who is expected to switch-hit his way to a strike rate of 150+.
That’s not the player Cheteshwar Pujara ever will be. That's because, even when he is scoring at pace, his core game remains the same.
His 61-ball century in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2018-19 included a solitary six. Nevertheless, he ended that campaign as the highest run-scorer for Saurashtra. But his strike rate was 131.31, as he got most of his runs via fours (37) and not sixes (2).
However, Cheteshwar Pujara's batting style isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Several players in the past have flourished in the shortest format of the game despite being labelled as 'orthodox' batsmen.
If used judiciously, Cheteshwar Pujara can do the job for an IPL franchise this season. On that note, here are three reasons why India’s Test specialist should be picked up by IPL teams in 2021.
#1 Cheteshwar Pujara is an Indian batsman with pedigree
Indian batsmen at the IPL 2021 auction are at a premium. While some exciting options are available if teams delve into uncapped options, batsmen who have recently played international cricket for India aren’t too many.
The ones that are there, their record isn’t impressive. Karun Nair averaged 15.5 in this year’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and last scored 300+ runs in the IPL in 2018. Hanuma Vihari hasn’t played more than five games in the IPL since 2013. Kedar Jadhav last played a T20I for India in 2017.
Although Cheteshwar Pujara’s record in T20 is almost insignificant, he will at least come into IPL 2021 match fit. He has played international cricket at the highest level for several months now. The same cannot be said of the other aforementioned options.
Having an Indian batsman also gives an IPL franchise the flexibility to chop and change. Cheteshwar Pujara is technically solid, and can up the ante, if required.
Someone like a Cheteshwar Pujara can do a whole lot of good even when he is not in the playing XI. He could do what Ajinkya Rahane did for the Delhi Capitals in the IPL last season: be a mentor to the youngsters off the field and an able batsman whenever called upon.
Many IPL franchises could do with a calm head in the dressing rooms, as Cheteshwar Pujara is exactly that, and perhaps much more.
#2 Cheteshwar Pujara offers good value for money
Cheteshwar Pujara will be available for just Rs 50 lakh in IPL 2021. It is unlikely teams will get into a bidding war for him. Even if they do, he won't fetch headline-grabbing numbers.
His price is what makes him a must-pick in IPL 2021. Teams will not get too many class batsman with international experience for just 50 lakh!
To put things in perspective. Hanuma Vihari has a base price of Rs 1 cr. Kedar Jadhav will cost at least Rs 2 cr. Meanwhile, Cheteshwar Pujara is competing with batsmen like Karun Nair, Kusal Perera and Glenn Phillips in the Rs 50-lakh bracket.
When comparing the amount teams would pay for Pujara versus the quality of player they will be getting, India's Test number three certainly fares well in the cost-benefit analysis ahead of IPL 2021.
Click here to see IPL 2020 retained players list.
#3 Cheteshwar Pujara can succeed if given a clearly defined role
It would be naïve to think there isn’t a place for batsmen like Cheteshwar Pujara in T20 cricket. Time and time again, it has been proven that if a player is technically sound, they have a place in the game’s shortest format.
Cheteshwar Pujara can do the same, provided he is given a clear role that plays to his strengths. Expect him to go Chris Gayle-style at the top, and one is bound to be disappointed.
But what about sending him at the top of the order and giving him the freedom to bat through? The powerplay will allow him to get a quick start, and then Cheteshwar Pujara can anchor the innings, while other batsmen accelerate around him.
Michael Hussey did that with great success for the Chennai Super Kings. Ajinkya Rahane found form the same way for the Rajasthan Royals. There’s no reason why Cheteshwar Pujara cannot do the same.
Another role for Cheteshwar Pujara could be that of a floater: a solid option when things go wrong early on, and a back-up who gets pushed down the order when the top order is scoring at a good rate.
Remember Subramanian Badrinath for CSK? He was always out in the middle when the team in yellow lost quick wickets, but sacrificed his place for other batsmen when the team were in a comfortable position.
Multiple IPL teams could do well by signing Cheteshwar Pujara. Kings XI Punjab could do with a floater. That would allow the likes of Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, KL Rahul and co. to go berserk from ball one, safe in the knowledge that Cheteshwar Pujara is there at the other end.
Rajasthan Royals don’t have a senior Indian batsman in their ranks. With a young Sanju Samson leading the side in 2021, they could do well with the experience of Cheteshwar Pujara.
But will Cheteshwar Pujara be picked up for IPL 2021? The answer is only a few days away!