Chennai Super Kings surprised everyone when they went in for Team India’s test-specialist Cheteshwar Pujara during the auction for IPL 2021. As it materialized, this was one of the highlights of the auction this year as every other franchise applauded the move by CSK.
Chennai bowling coach Lakshimapathy Balaji said Cheteshwar Pujara deserved an IPL contract as a mark of respect, for the way he has performed in test cricket.
"The way he has played for India in the recent past, in Australia he deserves that. He deserves that mark of respect. One player I genuinely feel is giving his sweat and blood for the country. I feel genuinely happy for him." Balaji said.
An unlikely starter in the regular playing eleven
Pujara, who last played an IPL game way back in 2014, does not boast a significant record in the shortest format. In 30 IPL games, Team India's test number-three has scored 390 runs with a solitary half-century and an ordinary strike rate. Pujara is expected to have worked on his white-ball game in the last seven years but hasn’t had many opportunities to prove himself in the limited-overs format. His notable contributions came in the 2018-19 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where he scored 260 runs in 6 games for Saurashtra at an average of 86.66 and a strike rate of 131. His 61-ball hundred in that series gave us a glimpse of his improved striking prowess in the shortest format of the game.
Regardless, Pujara’s selection in the starting-11, especially in the middle order, looks highly unlikely. CSK already flaunts a compact batting line-up. And with the return of Suresh Raina this year, it will be extremely difficult to fit Pujara in.
Opener’s position: The only feasible slot for Pujara
CSK skipper MS Dhoni is known to get the best out of his players. Numerous cricketers, over the years, have exceeded expectations when they played under the former Indian captain. Although Pujara looks unlikely to feature in the middle order, he might just find a place as an opener.
The fact that CSK struggled with their opening combination last year, coupled with Shane Watson’s retirement, could well open doors for some experimentation at the top. Pujara, observed practicing with a higher bat-lift, could be a solid proposition at the top order for the yellow army. One strategy behind bringing Pujara to the top could be to make use of the powerplay restrictions initially and then play anchor. This would allow other batsmen like Faf Du Plessis, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu to attack, or at least play more freely around him.
It would be a tough ask for Pujara to straightaway play a flamboyant role. The team management will be wary of the same. However, the right-hander from Saurashtra has shown considerable character over the years, and the newest recruit of the yellow army would be eager to prove his credentials in the shortest format and justify his selection.