Pujara - The perfect replacement for 'The Wall'
Cheteshwar Pujara is the man to behold, having hailed Kohli all these days. We have found a new hero. The time when Dravid and Ganguly joined Sachin who was fighting alone, makes it seem like deja vu. Pujara is exhibiting a Dravid-like calmness in his approach towards his game that makes us feel that this man is special, even among specialist cricketers.
Cheteshwar Pujara was marked for bigger things, right from the time he’d started playing domestic cricket. He is a completely orthodox player who believes in the concept of playing straight. Though he is only six Tests old, we can see the amount of maturity in his game, which was the trademark of great players like Dravid, Sachin and Laxman. His extremely balanced stance, poise and the confidence he exudes is simply magnificent.
Pujara made his debut in the home series against the Australians. In the second Test,when he came to bat, he was dismissed for just four runs. Many people were disappointed after seeing him play in the domestic circuit.People thought he was yet another failure who wouldn’t be able to survive on the biggest stage.But he proved them all wrong when he came in to bat in the second innings. India, needing 207 runs to win on the last day, lost the wicket of Sehwag early. Dhoni surprised everyone when he sent rookie Pujara ahead of Rahul Dravid. Pujara, being the complete player that he is, started playing some skillful cricket, milking runs steadily while he kept track of the run rate. He was in full flow, hitting some elegant cover drives, cutting and pulling the fast bowlers with disdain. That was a master class innings, though he got out for 72 runs.
He played his next test in South Africa,where he failed miserably, not getting a single half century. Pujara was dropped soon after and a career-threatening injury while playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore kept him out for the better part of 2011.
Pujara came back strongly, touring the West Indies with the India A team. He alone made some runs in alien conditions against a hostile bowling attack. Soon afterwards, he got his chance to make a comeback of sorts when he was called up as replacement for Dravid for the home series against New Zealand. He repaid the faith of the selectors by scoring a magnificent 159 in the first Test. He was brilliant off both the front and back foot, scoring runs all over the ground with considerable ease. He looked like a man on a mission who wanted to cement his place in the side. He exuded calmness and control and showed maturity unlike many other youngsters, which is a great positive in this man.
Although he wasn’t able to get a 50 in the next Test, he made up for it on the 15th of November when he came out to bat at number three after the dismissal of Gambhir. But Pujara, though young and inexperienced, didn’t get carried away by the marauding Sehwag who was going hammer and tongs against the English bowling attack. Pujara played what we could call a master class innings. He was neither too defensive nor very offensive. He played with poise and elegance, defending when required and punishing loose balls. He settled in quite nicely, getting those quirky singles and twos, easing the pressure around. When Kohli and Tendulkar fell in quick succession, he joined hands with another comeback man, Yuvraj Singh, and put up a beautiful partnership. Pujara understood his partner very well and played accordingly. He was always up for a word or a pat on the back for a well executed shot. Yuvraj did his part well playing alongside the youngster, giving him confidence. Pujara was all over the England bowlers, not allowing them to settle down. He played all around the park and hit some beautiful drives and cuts which were a treat to the eyes.
He ended the day on 98* with lots of promise for the next day.
The main strength of Pujara is that, he seems calm whenever he is batting. He never showed nervousness while playing on 98 or 99. Even when he guided the ball to fine leg and got to his hundred, there were no excessive celebrations ,just a smile and a raise of the bat. It showed the depth in his character, his maturity beyond his age, which was amazing to see. He carried on in the same fashion and got to 206* from 389 balls. This unbeaten knock should give him a world of confidence and he can be sure of his position in this team for sometime and till he retires if he keeps performing in the same vein.
Pujara is not only an excellent batsman, but an outstanding close-in catcher too. He got two crucial catches in the first Test against Australia in 2010 which helped India restrict them to a lower total. Pujara is excellent on the field, showing what it is to have a youngster in the team. He has taken some difficult catches, one off R.Ashwin’s bowling yesterday, which is an added advantage for the team in subcontinent conditions, where most wickets from the spinner are gotten from the field placed around the bat.
Pujara should be given a chance in ODIs too. I believe he is the right man to play at number three in ODIs too. Since he can play well and can manage during crunch situations. Pujara can be the perfect foil to players like Sehwag and Yuvraj, who are on the either side of his batting position. Moreover, he has to be in the scene constantly so that he can face quality bowling often which will help him gain more experience and this in turn will help him in the longer run.