India in Zimbabwe 2013: Cheteshwar Pujara can add solidity to the explosive Indian batting

Cheteshwar Pujara has been prolific in Tests, but can he deliver in One-Day Internationals? © AFP

India’s batting line-up is full of power-players and the technically correct Cheteshwar Pujara may be able to add solidity to the order. Nishad Pai Vaidya explains the benefits of Pujara in the limited-overs team. 

What can Cheteshwar Pujara add to the Indian One-Day International (ODI) line-up? The Saurashtra batsman has been a prolific run-scorer in domestic cricket and has translated that potential into performance in the Test match arena. But, would he fit into an Indian batting unit that boasts of power-players who take the attack to the opposition from the word go? In comparison to the flamboyant batsmen, Pujara is more from the old-school and his technique delivers substance.

Although, T20 cricket has revolutionised the approach to ODIs — wherein batsmen are more attacking and fearless, genuine class still has a place in the format. Take the example of England. Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook are by no means the slam-bang players, but are consistent and get the job done more often than not. In fact, Trott averages more than 50 in ODIs, which only reflects the value he adds to England. However, they have too many players in that mould and it isn’t the most ideal situation.

In contrast, India may need someone like a Pujara to add more stability to the explosive batting unit. He can be the calming influence and can hold the innings together with his disciplined approach. In List A cricket, he averages 56.97 and during his last one-day assiginment, which was the Challenger Trophy last year, he finished with two hundreds and one fifty in the tournament. Both those hundreds were unbeaten as he anchored the innings through. He also maintained a very good strike-rate and kept the scoreboard ticking. In one of those games, his ton was nearly helped India B chase down a mammoth 336.

Looking at his progress in Test cricket, many have likened Pujara to his predecessor at number three — Rahul Dravid. When India built a strong one-day unit under Sourav Ganguly’s leadership in the early 2000s, Dravid was the back-bone of the middle order. That line-up comprised the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif to name a few. Dravid was someone who complemented the others with his solidity and it gave them the licence to go for the kill. Perhaps, India can find similar value in Pujara a decade down the line.

It is only Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s break that has allowed the likes of Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu a possible shot in the eleven. The remaining order that won India the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 — Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja — would remain unchanged and it only Dhoni’s spot which is up for grabs in Zimbabwe.

To get into the eleven, Pujara faces tough competition from Rayudu and Rahane. For the trio, this tour is important as they have to capitalise on the opportunities and cement their spots in the squad. When Dhoni comes back, they may have to make way, but can remain in the periphery if they convince the selectors with performances. Through all that, Karthik’s spot becomes a bit iffy. His keeping duties have paved the way for him to play all the games in Zimbabwe. But, his batting needs to pick up. He has had a few starts and needs to convert them. If the others contenders do well, he may be pushed out once Dhoni returns.

The last time India toured Zimbabwe, they failed to perform well with an under-strength unit. During that sojourn, they handed ODI caps to six players — Ashok Dinda, R Vinay Kumar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Naman Ojha and Pankaj Singh. With the exception of the last two, the others have been in the Indian scheme of things for the last two years. Ashwin in particular has blossomed into a reliable off-spinner. Perhaps, they may discover batsmen this time. The spotlight is on Pujara and Rayudu.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)