Cheteshwar Pujara: The silent hero of Indian cricket
India completed a Test series win in Australia for the first time ever after the Sydney Test was drawn due to rain. India has been touring Australia for almost 71 years but not a single team was able to win a series in Down Under. But this Indian team led by Virat Kohli made history and won the series by 2-1 shattering the hosts.
There was one player who was instrumental in giving India the series and it is none other than Cheteshwar Pujara. Pujara's grit and determination paralysed one of the best bowling attacks in the world in their own backyard. His defence was solid as a rock and his concentration was unwavering like a monk.
Before the Test series even started all the eyeballs were on the superstar Virat Kohli, world's no.1 batsman with a staggering record in the previous series in Australia. This might have helped Pujara a bit as the Aussie bowlers were fully focused on getting Kohli out while he eased his way into the crease.
Cheteshwar Pujara is one of the most non-glamorous and in a way, one of the underrated cricketers in this Indian team. He's so underrated that a player of his class was dropped in England in the first Test match of the series. He does all the hard work and makes cricket stay still so that others can play some extravagant shots and receive all the glamour.
For instance, in the Sydney Test, Pujara batted for over 500 minutes facing 373 balls and made 193 while Rishabh Pant walked in at no.6 played some fancy shots and smashed a 159* off just 189 balls and grabbed the limelight.
In this tour of Australia, the world got to witness the toughness of Cheteshwar Pujara. It was his mental and physical toughness that has enabled him to bat for about 28 hours and 22 minutes in the whole series. During this time he has been hit multiple times on his helmet, chest, shoulders, fingers among other places but he didn't show his pain even once.
The 30-year-old may not be the fastest fielder in the team but he is certainly the fittest batsman. As batting for such long periods of time requires a very strong back and mental toughness.
Cheteshwar Pujara scored 521 runs in the series at an average of 74.42 and ended as the highest run-getter. In this period he has faced a mammoth 1258 deliveries in the whole series which is the most by an Indian batsman in a Test Series in Australia. He broke the record of Rahul Dravid in the 2003-04 series where he faced 1203 balls.
More often than not Pujara always had to come to the crease very early as the Indian openers couldn't last long. He used to eat up the deliveries and frustrate the Aussie bowlers. Later he would shift gears and score some big runs. This has been the story in this entire series. Pujara has scored three centuries and a half-century doing that in the series.
Pujara wasn't able to score many at Perth and ironically India lost that match. In all the other three matches he has scored a century and India has won all three.
"Not only did Pujara single-handedly bring the Australian bowlers to their knees, he also paved the way for his team-mates to deliver the killer blow," Ian Chappell, one of the Australian greats wrote about Cheteshwar Pujara in his column.
For cricket fans who have been watching cricket since the 90s and 2000s, this is one of the best moment as we all grew up watching Australia dominate all over the world. But this time, it is the Indian team under Virat Kohli that dominated the Aussies in their own backyard. This India tour of Australia will be remembered for ages to come by Indian cricket fans and the name of Cheteshwar Pujara will be fondly taken.