How Rahul Dravid Never Looked Slow Even With Strike-Rate Slower Than Cheteshwar Pujara
There is not much difference in how Dravid and Pujara look at the game. Solid in defence and loads of patience.

New Delhi: For long, Cheteshwar Pujara has been slammed for having a strike rate below par, each time being attacked with the same science of reasoning that it has a detrimental effect on the team. Add to that argument, that the scoreboard stops ticking as long as he is at the crease and by the time Pujara is dismissed, the team total has not moved to the extent it should have. This brings me to the question, what is his role? Surely, Pujara is not in the team to take the attack to the opposition?

Then what is this hullabaloo about his strike rate that comes into the fore after every series?

The great Rahul Dravid, in a career spanning more than 16 years, ended with a strike rate of 42.51 in 164 Test matches. Pujara has been compared to Dravid every time he copes with an increasingly difficult situation of either saving a Test match or buying time at the crease to essentially stop a batting collapse.

Pujara’s career strike rate is 44.90, a tad above Dravid’s, who had amassed 13,288 Test runs, no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination.

Pujara would be a happy man if he made it anywhere close to what the former India captain had achieved with or without a better strike rate. Dravid did have his own set of issues, starting from finding the fielder on too many occasions early on in his career to even at one point getting dropped from the limited-overs squad.

The former India captain once spoke about the insecurities he had to deal with in his playing career.

“There have been phases in my international career [when I felt insecure]. I was dropped from the ODI team in 1998. I had to fight my way back in, spent a year away from the game,” the 48-year-old told WV Raman in a chat sometime last year.

“There were certain insecurities then as well about whether I’m a good enough one-day player or not because I had grown up wanting to be a Test player, was coached to be a Test player hit the ball on the ground, don’t hit the ball in the air, coaching like that. You sort of worry whether you had the skills to be able to do it,” he added.

Now let’s add 10,889 ODI runs that he had scored with that insecurity, just to make sense of the magnitude of his achievement.

Pujara found himself in a similar situation a couple of years ago when he was dropped from the Test team. The Saurashtra-born is only a permanent member of the team in the longest format, making it even more difficult for him to find or get into any kind of groove in international cricket.

There is not much difference in how Dravid and Pujara look at the game, both proper, quality Test match players. Solid in defence and loads of patience. But the fact that Dravid played in an era where the batting was filled with stroke-makers, most of us didn’t realise or even spoke about his strike rate. The runs kept coming at the other end, be that Virendra Sehwag opening the batting or Sachin Tendulkar at number four, followed by Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. The entire batting line-up batted around Dravid, which not only worked in his favour but also helped the team.

With Pujara, apart from Kohli, there isn’t someone who is going to keep the scoreboard moving at all times. Rohit Sharma is relatively new in terms of a Test opener and so is Shubman Gill or Mayank Agarwal. There were phases where both Pujara and the player on the other end had got stuck. The most recent being the Test match India won against Australia at Melbourne.

With Pujara trying to buy time and stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane almost going into his shell, runs were hard to come by. Pujara was soon dismissed and Hanuma Vihari looked too cautious to get off the blocks.

The result being India 116/4 on the board. In the context of the match, the 40-ball 29 Rishabh Pant scored turned out to be the defining knock as it just helped to ease things up, all of a sudden, the runs were coming, and that confidence rubbed on to Rahane as well who went on to score a century. The exuberance of youth, perhaps.

The onus should not lie on Pujara only to score the runs. The argument may hold more value if perhaps the 33-year-old looks to take the quick singles and try and rotate the strike at every given opportunity. At the end of the day, his role in the team is to hold one end up and let others play around him, the least talked-about art Dravid mastered among a dozen perhaps, yet the most important one.