Long live Test Cricket, Long live Cheteshwar Pujara
- In a generation of hard-hitting cricketers, what makes Pujara special?
"Pujara is a classical musician in an era of Yo Yo Honey Singh", perhaps Harsha Bhogle best described India's Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara.
Rap songs spark an inimitable energy in you but it's the old school classical tunes that really soothe your soul. And Pujara's batting is just that. It is old-fashioned, it is textbook and it takes a pure cricket fan to really appreciate it. And indeed there's a small dedicated fan-base somewhere for the Saurashtra player. They are neither hashtag-driven nor have a plethora of Instagram fan pages for their hero but they are there.
A player's game is a reflection of his persona and Pujara's strokeplay is just as modest as his demeanour. He doesn't hit glorious sixes over extra-cover as a Rohit Sharma does, he doesn't park bowlers over their heads like a Rishabh Pant does and nor does he flicks pacers for maximums with one swift movement like a Virat Kohli does.
Pujara grinds. He puts his head down and he grinds. Hence, you never remember Pujara for his shots, you remember him for his milestones. You remember him for his 92 in Bengaluru against Australia when he added 118 runs with Rahane and pulled India out of a pit, a match India eventually won by 75 runs. If not that, then you surely must remember his valiant 202 in the same series.
Australia were in the front seat when Pujara walked in and it must have seemed like a lifetime to the visitors when he walked back for it was longest test innings by an Indian lasting 525 balls. And if you have a crummy memory that can't recollect the events of 2017, then you must certainly remember his famous knock in Southampton this year.
It was a masterful ton that attracted praises from Kohli, Sachin, Sehwag and other greats, a knock that resurrected Pujara's overseas career and served as another testimony to his grit.
Che's latest exploit is his century in Adelaide in the ongoing first Test of the Australian tour. Amidst a shambolic batting performance from the rest of the Indian top order, Pujara's defiance stood tall. Pujara displayed the patience of a monk, oblivious to what was going on at the other end. The Indian batting fortress was being breached one full ball at a time, but the Pujara wall stood to protect its own.
"It is easy to play shots. When you start playing shots [during a testing spell], that means your game is not capable enough to play the Test format. You are trying to survive rather than understand the situation and play accordingly. When you start playing shots, it means you are under pressure as a batsman and you are not able to handle that situation. When you defend confidently you know you are in command, you are on top of the bowler, and he doesn't have a chance to get you out. You will ultimately score runs when he bowls a loose ball." - Cheteshwar Pujara
Pujara practises what he preaches. And in the age of blitz cricket even in the longest format, his methods come under the scanner almost every time. His strike rates may well be under 50 for the most part of his innings but he believes in understanding the conditions. Pujara puts his hand up and his head down when the team needs him to and laboriously works his way through the rough patches of the game.
Skillset is not only limited to what one can do with a bat in hand. It expands to mental strength, focus and patience. Pujara gets into a zone where he can control all three immaculately. He might not be the fastest of runners between the 22-yard strip but he doesn't tire of staying at the crease playing ball after ball with the same precision and concentration with which a batsman plays his first. The resistance is atrocious, almost Dravid-like.
Che Pu doesn't necessarily fit the bill of a superstar. Instead, his drudgery resembles a knight in the shining armour. You might not bring his posters in the stadium but you must stand up and applaud him because every time Cheteshwar Pujara walks onto a cricket field, he puts an unmatched value on his presence. And that itself is invaluable in this mercurial sport.
In the end, I have only two words: CHErish Pujara!