Cheteshwar Pujara, since his arrival in international cricket, has been lauded as the perfect fit for the big shoes of Rahul Dravid. For years, Dravid implanted himself on the cricket pitch, especially in the longest form of the game. Indian cricket will always be indebted to him for his contribution.
Dravid's career flourished after Sourav Ganguly took over the captaincy. His innings at the Eden Gardens in 2001 season made the team realize that the batting line-up was not anymore dependent on one or two individuals. The Test that turned out to be the changing point in many players' career, was also the turning point for the dominance of Indian Cricket in world cricket.
After this Test, the impact that Dravid made in India's glory increased manifold. Dravid, in many ways, substantiated himself as the "Wall" of Indian Cricket. In the line-up which contained the likes of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly, VVS Lakshman, Dravid had his own weightiness.
When something is lost, the search for something inevitable, identical that does the same thing and fits the same mold, is started so as to replace it. In cricket, this propensity is more evident than usual.
After the retirement of Gavaskar, the next master was searched for. Kapil Dev called it a day in the early 90s, but India is yet to produce similar fast-bowling all-rounder. So, by the time Dravid hung up his boots in 2012, Indian cricket, not surprisingly, was searching for someone to stand tall at the number three. Out of the very few options available, the highest expectancy was on the young lad from Saurashtra.
Pujara was known for scoring bug daddy hundreds in the domestic circuits. He was scoring centuries for breakfast and triple-tons for lunch. After almost seven years since Dravid's retirement, one can proudly say that Pujara is showing the same amount of resilience as his senior-pro.
Both Pujara and Dravid have a similar kind of mindset in the longest format. They are known for their tendency to leave balls outside the off stump, evidenced by their excellent performance in overseas swinging conditions. Both look at their wickets as if their lives are stuck in it. However, they have different batting techniques. Che's techniques resemble somewhat to VVS, while he lacks in some ways like bat lift and timing. He is one of the few batsmen with the 'classical' approach in the modern era.
Stats: Numbers speak
Rahul Dravid scored 13288 runs in the 286 innings of 164 Tests that he played. He has 36 Test-tons under his chin and is the player to have faced the highest number of balls in Tests.
The first 68 Tests:
Pujara has so far played only 68 Tests, so comparing all the stats to the 68th Test.
Dravid played his 68th Test against New Zealand in December 2002. In 116 innings of his first 68 Tests, Dravid scored 5566 runs. He had hit 28 fifties and 14 centuries and had a healthy average of 54.04. His highest score, then, was 217 that came against England at the Kia Oval. He had 2 double-centuries to his name.
Pujara recently concluded his 68th Test against the Aussies at the SCG. In 114 innings, he has scored 5426 runs with 20 fifties and 18 centuries. Of the 18 triple figure marks, he has converted three into double-centuries. He has an average of 51.19 and the highest score of 206 which came against England.
In the first 68 Tests, Dravid played 31 Tests at home. In 53 innings, he scored 2349 runs with 5 centuries and 12 fifties. His average was 48.93 and had the highest score of 200* vs Zimbabwe at home.
Pujara has so far played 36 Tests at home. He has scored 3217 runs with an average of 61 in 58 innings. He has hit 10 centuries and 14 fifties with a highest score of 206* at Ahmedabad.
Dravid's stats at home are great, but that of Pujara are just phenomenal.
Pujara has been often criticized for not being up to mark outside the home soil. The only thing which refrains him from being a 'versatile' player is his away record. Let's compare the away records of these two batsmen in their first 68 Tests.
In the first 37 away Tests, Dravid scored 3217 runs. He had an away average of 58.49 with 16 fifties and 9 centuries. His highest score was 217 against England in England.
Pujara has played 32 away Tests so far. He has scored 2209 runs in 56 innings with an average of 40.91. He has 7 away fifties and 8 away centuries, with the highest score of 193 coming in the recent SCG Test. These prove that Pujara is nowhere near to Dravid's consistency in the overseas conditions.
For any sub-continent batsmen, the highest parameter of success is the performance on the turfs of South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia. Thereby, comparing the SENA performances of these two;
Dravid played 17 Tests of his first 68 in the SENA. He scored 1258 runs with an average of 40.58. He scored 6 fifties and 6 centuries. While Pujara has so far played 25 Tests in SENA and scored 1693 runs. He has an average of merely 37 and has 5 centuries and 6 fifties. Yet again, Pujara fails to match the consistency of Dravid.
One cannot judge a player solely based on the stats. But, more importantly, it is the mental attitude of both these batsmen to stick on the crease, tall and tough, where these two players are concurrent.
Pujara has shown flashes of such brilliance, but consistency is also important. So as to fit in the shoes of "The Wall", he needs to be even more consistent, especially, in the coming overseas tours.