Cheteshwar Pujara averages just 29.40 in Tests outside India © Getty Images
Cheteshwar Pujara averages just 29.40 in Tests outside India © Getty Images

 

Indian batsman’s struggles Down Under are only adding to his image as a poor traveller and unless he converts his starts into big scores, he will be remembered only for being once called the ‘Next Dravid’, writes Derek Abraham

A good two years before he broke into the Indian team, Cheteshwar Pujara was touted as the heir apparent to Rahul Dravid. How fair is that?
Twenty-seven matches into a promising Test career, the soft-spoken, ever-smiling and industrious right-hander has scored 2,073 runs at an average of 47.11. Good? Pretty good. But, then again, you have to put these numbers into perspective. In cricket, the ‘Home vs Away’ debate is all-pervasive. And for good reason, mind you.

In 13 Tests played on wickets where the ball seldom yearns for a rendezvous with your ribcage, shoulder, neck or helmet, Pujara averages an astonishing 75.23. That’s 1,279 runs in just 13 Tests. Add a dash of swing, seam, bounce, gloom and grass to the mix, and you get this: Tests 14, Runs 794, Average 29.40. This is true of most Indian batsmen except,of course, the Gavaskars, Tendulkars and Dravids.

In three Tests Down Under, Pujara has tallied 201 runs. Not too bad, you’d think. Think again. Your No. 3 batsman has to do better. Much better.
In the first Test, in Adelaide, Pujara got off to a tentative start before opening up. His efforts got him 73 valuable runs. He made a quick 21 in the second innings. Nathan Lyon got his number in both innings.

In the first innings of the Brisbane Test, Pujara was done in by Ian Gould more than anyone else. The ageing umpire adjudged him caught-behind even though Josh Hazlewood’s delivery hit the batsman’s grille. He was out for 18. In the second, Hazlewood accounted for him by extracting some bounce. The ball almost hit the handle of the bat before popping up to Lyon at point.

In Melbourne, Pujara went past the 20-run mark in both innings. But he failed to make it count. For the record, he dropped down to No. 6 in the second dig, making way for KL Rahul, another batsman who has been compared with Dravid.

Ever since he scored a majestic 153 in the second innings of the Johannesburg Test and followed it up with a 70-run knock in Durban in December 2013, Pujara has been a shadow of his prolific self. The ensuing tour of New Zealand saw him come up with returns of just 60 runs from two Tests. The England sojourn was an eye-opener to say the least. Done in by seam movement more than anything else — getting out to deliveries darting back in was a regular sight — Pujara tallied just 222 runs in 10 innings. In short, the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett sorted him out. He even found ways and means to get out to the part-time off-spin Moeen Ali.

Pujara has been labelled a flat-track bully on many occasions. Born and bred in Rajkot, where cricket pitches are likened to national highways, Pujara was never quite threatened. Well, this also tells you about the standard of bowlers playing on the domestic circuit. That said, he did struggle on bowler-friendly wickets.

Ajit Agarkar has a point. “Look, he’s getting starts. So he’s not been a total failure in Australia. It’s his first tour of the country. Even Dravid struggled on his first tour of Australia in 1999. But he scored big in the epic series of 2003. Just when we thought Pujara had stepped into Dravid’s shoes completely, he has shown us that he has work to do,” the former India pacer said.

Pujara has a lot of work to do. His defence is suspect; it’s not neat like Dravid’s. Time and again, he seems to forget where his off-stump is. The manner in which Mitchell Johnson set him up on the final day in Melbourne is a case in point. The left-armer bowled a couple of bouncers before using the width of the crease to let out a leg-cutter. A clueless Pujara offered a straight bat, but the ball thudded into the off-stump.

With Pujara, you somehow know all is not lost. He is hungry for runs and success on foreign soil. He takes his game, technique and shot selection very seriously. To him, batting is a science, one that can be perfected only by relentless practice. He worships the game. The very fact that he sought the BCCI’s permission to play county cricket for Derbyshire shows he cares about his falling stock. Many a cricketer has turned a corner in the friendly confines of the Sydney Cricket Ground. Pujara can follow suit.

(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)