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Rahul Dravid and Dilip Vengsarkar back Cheteshwar Pujara for success in ODIs

(From Left) Dilip Vengsarkar, Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara at a function in Mumbai on Friday © PTI
(From Left) Dilip Vengsarkar, Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara at a function in Mumbai on Friday © PTI

By G Krishnan

Three generation of cricketers, each one a stylish top-order batsman and a vital cog in the Indian team’s batting line-up in their era, came on one stage on Friday. While two of them have etched their names among the greats, the third has the wherewithal to emulate them.

Belonging to the classical mould of batting, the trio have also made adjustments to their game to suit demands of shorter versions of the game.

Dilip Vengsarkar played One-Day Internationals (ODIs) when it was at its nascent stage and was part of the team that won World Cup in 1983, the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985 and the Rothmans Cup in Sharjah the same year.

Vengsarkar made the Indian team purely as a batsman and played majority of his 129 ODIs batting at No. 4. Rahul Dravid was considered a Test specialist but went on to become one of the greats in the one-dayers. He even had to don wicket-keeping gloves during Sourav Ganguly‘s captaincy to stay in the side and give the team the option of that extra batsman or bowler.

Cheteshwar Pujara, two ODIs old and an established Test No. 3, said recently that he had begun to bowl off-spinners to make it to the ODI squad. In the recent Asia Cup, he could not find a place in the XI despite being in the 15-man squad.

An attacking player with an impressive record in List A, Pujara will make an ideal batsman in ODIs, feel former India captains Dravid and Vengsarkar.

Dravid, said “Someone like Pujara can definitely make a mark in one-day cricket. I speak from my own personal experiences of someone who was sort of seen as a Test player, I was able to develop and build my game for one-day cricket and play successfully for a long time. I have no doubt that Pujara has the skill and the ability to do that. It is nice to see that he has got into the Indian one-day squad.”

About Pujara’s efforts to add off-spin as an additional skill, Dravid said it was fine but that should not be the benchmark for his selection. ”In the end, Pujara will be judged by his batting. I have never seen Pujara bowl, I don’t know how good his bowling is. Having an extra string to your bow is nice but I don’t think it is critical in the sense that Dilip (Vengsarkar) for a large part of his career did not have another skill. I kept (wickets) only for a short period in my one-day career though I rate my off-spin quite well, I got Saeed Anwar out. I did not need another skill. If you are a good enough player and get into the top five in the batting line-up, then you don’t necessarily need another skill.”

Vengsarkar added that Pujara’s efforts to bowl off-spin will benefit the team. “If Pujara is picked in the team, it will be for sheer batting, not because he can bowl. Every team would like to have a good batsman in their squad. If he can bowl a few overs, it will definitely help.”

Dravid said that the 26-year-old Saurashtra batsman has a role to play for India in ODIs. ”When I see him bat in Test matches, the way he rotates the strike, the way the kind of shots he hits, he has got shots all round the wicket. Batting in ODIs is not only about hitting sixes, right? He scores runs pretty quickly, he scores runs at a pretty decent click even in Test cricket. I have no doubt that he can do well (in ODIs). Obviously, he is fighting in a cramped middle order at the moment. That is the challenge for him.”

“There are tours of England and Australia coming up and someone like him will get a little more playing time and get the opportunity to prove himself and do well.”

Vengsarkar minced no words about how important Pujara is. “Pujara can bat at No. 3 and play a long innings. In 50 overs matches, you need somebody who can stick around and play most of the overs. At the moment, the Indian team is full of attacking players, and we want somebody who can stay in the wicket. We want Pujara there,” he said.

(G Krishnan qualified as an umpire from Tamil Nadu Cricket Association in 1997 before making sports journalism as a career. His other interests include wildlife and reading. Krishnan is Principal Correspondent of DNA, where the article first appeared)

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