To every Batman there’s a Robin, to every Tendulkar there’s a Dravid and to every Kohli, there’s a Cheteshwar Pujara!
As melodramatic as it may sound, these were the sort of comparisons Cheteshwar Pujara had to go through in the Test cricket arena. But many turn a blind eye to an important aspect that Pujara actually made his Test debut before Virat Kohli and that he brings more to the table than just play the second fiddle to the enigmatic Indian skipper.
Cricket, after all, is a team sport and a batsman can take his team close to a win on the basis of individual brilliance, but to win, a combined effort is needed. That the defiant and dogged batting displays of Cheteshwar Pujara have been the perfect foil for the domination that Virat Kohli transpires talks volumes about Pujara’s significance to Kohli.
The most common misinterpretation is of christening Pujara as an undemanding Test player, just because he takes his time in the middle. On the contrary, Pujara plays a pivotal role in taming the bowlers to an extent that it makes life for Kohli a tad easier while facing them- a role mastered by the man he replaced at No 3-Rahul Dravid.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s old school approach
The Saurashtra batsman has gathered enough footage for a rebuttal. His old-school approach has been a blessing in disguise for India, especially when the top order wobbles early on. having donned the India cap in 77-Test matches, Pujara has earned a solid-test pedigree, who goes about his business nonchalantly.
He derives happiness from the dots, making the bowlers toil on even green tops. He gets hit, he moves on. He defends and then on to the next ball. They sledge him but he steels himself for far greater purpose-to score runs for his team in his own way. He’s happy to let Virat Kohli hog all the limelight while he enjoys the comforts of taking on the mantle to blunt bowling attacks with his watertight technique.
The Pujara-Kohli stand
Both Pujara and Kohli hold the aces for India’s batting, especially in red-ball cricket. With the knowledge of stepping into significant spots-left vacant by their equally illustrious predecessors in Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. That Tendulkar and Dravid have amassed 6,920 runs in Tests batting together, sharing whopping 20-century partnerships-a record that stands till date.
The Pujara-Kohli duo sit distant at 2,894 runs, with 7 century partnerships-most of which have come on the road.
Pujara gave an insight into what it’s like to be at the crease with skipper Virat Kohli and how his approach takes the pressure off the batsman at the non-striker’s end.
The languid 32-year old from Rajkot gave an insight into what it is like to share the crease with his skipper. Pujara believes that when Kohli walks out to bat, the entire focus of the opposition shifts to him, allowing Pujara to go about his business almost unnoticed.
“I enjoy playing with him (Kohli) and the reason is that he is a very positive player. Once he is at the crease, I know, bowlers will try to take his wicket because they think they can get him out early,” Pujara states.
“But he is always positive. If he gets a half-volley on the first ball, he will try to hit it for a four. So the scoreboard keeps moving and there is not much pressure on myself because the opposition is thinking of taking the wicket of Virat.”
— cheteshwar pujara (@cheteshwar1) August 4, 2020
View from the opposition
India’s next assignment is a daunting tour of Australia, where Pujara will be key-just like the last tour. Pujara’s exploits were crucial for India as they registered a famous 2-1 series win against an Australian side sans the mercurial talents of Steve Smith and David Warner.
Pujara was a constant thorn in the Aussie side, amassing 521 runs from the four-Test matches, as compared to Virat Kohli’s 282 runs from as many outings.
“He (Pujara) had a mammoth series for them (in 2018-19). He’s one of those players that’ll take his time, he’s in his own little bubble and he doesn’t get disturbed by too much,” Australia’s bowling spearhead Pat Cummins said.
“We’ve got to find a way to outlast him if he bats the way he did last time. There wasn’t too much in the pitch so you couldn’t manufacture anything. So I think (we need to) take our medicine a bit more and try and outlast him.”
There’s no doubt that the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have set new paradigms, but there’s every chance Pujara will outlast them. Pujara will not be a part of the IPL bandwagon to travel to the UAE, but come December, he’ll be on a bigger mission to steer India’s campaign down under.
Just the fact that he may not be considered on equal keel with Virat Kohli, but for every ship to sail-it needs an anchor- and Cheteshwar Pujara will give you that!