Why Cheteshwar Pujara is key in Border-Gavaskar Trophy

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As Virat Kohli and Co embark on their defence of Border-Gavaskar Trophy, they surely would’ve studied the blueprint of their triumph down under in 2018/19. It was the first time that an Indian team had won a Test series Down Under in 71 years. The scenes of Virat Kohli and teammates lifting the famous trophy at Sydney Cricket Ground are etched in the minds of all Indian cricket fans.

And the roadmap to that triumph cannot be completed without analysis of Cheteshwar Pujara’s brilliant batting performance.

Indian batting mainstay in Tests Cheteshwar Pujara had an incredible tour Down Under in 2018 as he laid the foundation for the historic series win. He was the highest run-getter in the four-match series with 521 runs at an average of 74.43.

And with enigmatic batsman and skipper Virat Kohli returning home after the series-opener in Adelaide, India will be banking on Pujara once again to repeat his heroics this year as well when they take on Tim Paine’s Australia in the four-match series starting December 17.

Pujara’s knocks helped India tame the famed Australian bowling attack consisting of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon. The other Indian batsmen rallied around their resilient middle-order batter to score more runs than the home team.
Pujara hasn’t played in a long while and had been training at his academy in Rajkot before flying to Dubai just after the conclusion of the Indian Premier League (IPL). However, the middle-order batsman is confident about his preparations.

India’s batting mainstay: Cheteshwar Pujara.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Indian team

The Saurashtra batsman, who has scored 18 Test tons since making his Test debut in 2010 may not be easy on the eye. He may not be the most elegant, many may find him boring and whenever he bats, it is evident that his mindset is restricted to finding a way to save his place in the XI. But one can be assured that he’s mighty effective.

To do well in Australia, it is imperative for a touring side to bat well, and that is where Pujara’s old-school approach has been a blessing in disguise for India, especially when the top order wobbles early on.

Over the years as Test cricket has evolved, No 3 position has become even more pivotal. Pujara’s watertight technique, grit and readiness to bat for long hours makes his role one of the most vital ones for the Indian Test team and time and again he has proven that he is exactly that package. Down under in Australia, someone like Pujara is TaylorMade to play the role of an anchor sheet around whom the team innings can revolve.

In 2018, India’s bowlers had a good tour of Australia last time around with Jasprit Bumrah finishing as the joint-highest wicket-taker with 21 wickets and Mohammad Shami finishing just behind him with 16 scalps. Aside from the return of two stalwarts in the batting line-up, Australia have the experience of playing more day/night Tests, all of which have gone in their favour. The first Test between these sides in Adelaide will be a day/night affair with the pink ball, India’s first such Test away from home-which starts in a days’ time.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s approach

Cricket is a game of moments. At times we tend to over-emphasise the stats and numbers but the situational impact also is an important aspect of the sport.

This is exactly where Pujara’s overall contribution outgrows the 521 runs he scored on the last tour. The middle-order batsman not only toiled with Australia’s potent bowling attack but also wore them down both physically and mentally. Pujara’s unparalleled ability to bat for long hours in the middle drained out the Aussie pace attack. It left the Baggie Greens searching for answers apart from being tired and frustrated. Pujara ended up scoring 3 centuries on the tour – as he effectively blanked Australia’s esteemed pace attack.

Another pivotal factor where the Saurashtra batsman excels is his ability to raise his game when India is playing away from home shores. The 32-year old Pujara has a much higher and impactful contribution as far as runs in a win or a draw away from home is concerned. India’s No.3 has scored 70.11% of his away runs in a win or a draw for the Indian side. His uncanny knack of punching above his weight makes him a formidable work-horse for the team.

While it is a certainty that Kohli’s presence will be missed, the Indian side has another warrior in their midst in Cheteshwar Pujara.