Cheteshwar Pujara’s hundred mocks at the team management for protecting Rohit Sharma

Cheteshwar Pujara emphatically answered the Indian team management who treat him like a stepney. When play was called off due to rain on Day Two, Pujara was unbeaten on 135. When you look at the Indian scoreboard, you realise that the next highest Indian score among the top eight is Rohit Sharma with 26.

An unconquered score of 135 in a total of 292 for eight speaks volumes for Pujara’s role in giving the Indian total a semblance of respectability. Pujara was accommodated in the line-up in the role of an opener. And the karmayogi went about the job like with stoic determination. Pujara is now on the verge of joining Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid as the fourth Indian to carry the bat.

Talking of Dravid, it’s the India A coach who gave him confidence booster shots when Pujara’s career had hit an avoidable trough.  Pujara revealed, “When I was with the [India] A team, Rahulbhai said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your technique; just stay composed and you’ll get a big one any time soon.’

After cooling his heels at Sydney, Fatullah, Galle and P Sara Oval in Colombo, Pujara finally got to play his first Test this year, owing to injuries to Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. In an unfamiliar role of opening, he defied frequent rain interruptions and fall of wickets at the other end to smack a defiant century.

 

Unlike the superstars of Indian batting, Pujara is someone who reminds of a bygone era. In the era where we see Test hundreds scored at brisk pace, Pujara takes time to craft his innings. He took 63 balls to reach 25; he spent another 53 balls for the next seven runs. By now, his partner Rohit looked settled at the other end and Pujara raced to his fifty from 127 balls, which means the next 18 came from 11 balls. For the remaining day, batting majorly with the tail, his next 85 came from 150 balls. Amit Mishra scored 59 from 87 balls and all Pujara did was support him.

 

Prior to the ongoing series, the team management spoke about an aggressive No 3 batsman. From team director Ravi Shastri to captain Virat Kohli to batting coach Sanjay Bangar, all backed Rohit for the No 3 spot. Why? Not only Rohit makes batting look easier, but he can also score runs at brisk pace. However, it’s a myth that Pujara is slow.

Rohit Sharma vs Cheteshwar Pujara

 

Players I Runs HS Ave SR 100s 50s
Cheteshwar Pujara 49 2208 206* 50.18 49.21 7 6
Rohit Sharma 24 820 177 37.27 51.70 2 3

 

 

 

Is there a huge difference in strike-rate? It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out whose overall numbers look more impressive. Another fact is that while Rohit has been given the cushion to move to No 5 in the line-up so that he can excel, Pujara was dropped after struggling to get going in England and Australia, despite the fact that in the preceding two years prior to his failures, he was the side’s best batsman. Like Rahane, Pujara too has been often called to do ‘dirty jobs’ which other holy cows did not want to do, like filling in as an emergency opener. In what is his fifth innings as a Test opener, Pujara already has a hundred and two fifties.

 

Pujara, who is batting at 135 not out at the end of Day Two, may very well be the difference between India’s series loss or series win/draw by the end. He may very well be the 49th cricketer and the fourth Indian to carry his bat in a Test innings.

 

Pujara has had problems with his technique and his batting isn’t as poetic as Rohit’s. In the past, he has struggled against quality swing bowling, but it’s still early days. When his numbers are compared to others, it’s definitely better and he should be an automatic choice in the Test XI. When Dhawan and Vijay resume their position in the full-strength side, if sane senses prevail, it will be Pujara at No 3.

 

And if that doesn’t happen and Rohit gets preference over Pujara, the protectionism mindset of the Indian team management will be indisputable.
(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sportsmarketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)