Write off Cheteshwar Pujara at your own peril.
The Saurashtra batsman is a Test match specialist and he showed exactly why he is an industrious, hardworking and sensible cricketer.
In the ongoing fourth Test match between England and India, Pujara smashed an unbeaten 132. It may have taken a long time for him to strike outside the subcontinent, but the timing was worth it.
England lead India 2-1 in the 5-match Test series and Pujara has put the visitors in a promising position in the 4th Test being held at the Rose Bowl in Southampton. India can well stake a claim and equal the series at 2-2. India managed a decent 273 after suffering a collapse to be reeling at 195/8 post-England’s 246 earlier.
Pujara came in and played the perfect foil to Virat Kohli. The duo was building the innings before the Indian skipper departed for 46. Pujara hung on and progressed slowly, before launching his attack mode towards the end of the innings. This was a different Pujara innings where we witnessed the player running for his life between the wickets.
The cloud of darkness looked all gone and Pujara cashed in to defy England. Pujara, who was twice struck on the helmet by bouncers, survived a review for lbw off Moeen Ali on 99 and, next ball, lofted down the ground to complete his 15th Test century.
Pujara’s act of patience a solid entity
Pujara was left out of India’s defeat in the first Test at Edgbaston but returned to form with 72 in the second innings of their third Test win at Trent Bridge. That saw him get the desired confidence in letting his A game come out and strike when the chips looked down for India.
He was the support act in a stand of 92 with captain Kohli, who edged to first slip off Curran for 46 to begin India’s slide. Pujara played the patience card and after wearing the opposition down, he started ticking off the runs.
The top order batsman batted through morning and afternoon, against testing spells of spin and swing and seam, from England’s seven bowlers. While wickets were falling around him, Pujara remained calm. Occasionally he drove through the covers, but the region he got his scoring shots from, came through wristy flicks on the leg side or dabbed cuts to third man area.
He never got the time to stitch a stand with Ali ripping apart India. After a flurry of wickets, it was Ishant Sharma, then Jasprit Bumrah, who provided comfort to Pujara. That’s when he showed more intent in two chaotic partnerships that frustrated England in the evening sunshine.
Pujara learned from his time playing County
Pujara came in early and played championship cricket for Yorkshire in order to prepare well for the series. But he was all bottled up then. He averaged a mere 14 for Yorkshire this year – but what it did id he went on to learn a lot about how to bat in these conditions.
After that 72 at Nottingham, Pujara knew this was the opportunity to come out and play a knock that sees the team be in a promising scenario. He went and achieved the same. This knock will be remembered for quite some time.
Pujara needs to be lauded for his mental discipline especially after all that was said about him in recent times. He was also dropped from the first test due to being too slow in scoring and besides being out of form. It was in South Africa where he struggled and went on to a defensive shell. His innings lacked any direction. But all the work in County means he got the mentality right.
As the summer has worn on, the player has finally come into form. This is a crucial phase for India if they are to hit back and gain some ground.
We saw a different Pujara
The way Pujara ran for threes and twos with Jasprit Bumrah, there was a different side to him. His positivity and desire left us spellbound. It was one of the shows from him that is possibly among the best knocks by an Indian batsman in SENA countries.
In this innings Pujara allowed himself to play more attacking shots than he typically might score in the others. It looked like that he needed to seize on the scoring opportunities that England allowed him between the good balls that were constantly directed.
At one stage India were 232/9 and Bumrah had not faced a delivery. Over the course of the next 11.5 overs, Pujara opened his shoulders and dictated the strike. This was the period when England took the new ball as well.
Bumrah provided brave assistance and helped Pujara gain authority. Pujara stood up and it was wonderful innings, the perfect Test match innings one can call.
His intent was worth the shout
Pujara played 257 deliveries out of which there were 189 dots. The remains 66 balls saw him get the runs. He dispatched the odd bad balls and clipped them into the gaps. There were some crisp drives when the balls were over pitched.
Pujara is known for his cuts, and that has always been his strong point. This innings saw more often than not the balls finding the boundary. When India was eight down and James Anderson bowled those bouncers from around the wicket, Pujara’s positivity and intent were worth the shout. He looked to hook or upper-cut them for runs.
Pujara’s game may be old-fashioned in today’s modern day cricket, but there is a certain impetus of it and it has its own importance and place.