“Hi I can predict the result now. 3-1. Sorry but that’s what going to happen. Watch out!” 11;32 AM, 24 Mar
“Don’t think so Pujara to win it for India chasing 200”. 11:34 AM, 24 Mar
These are two messages interchanged between myself and my brother in law who is settled in Sydney, Australia. It happened during the first session of the third day’s play between India and Australia at Delhi in the fourth and last match of the test series. He was predicting an Aussie win. Please don’t get me wrong, it was not because he wanted Australia to win that he suggested this but it was because he always believed in their fighting spirit and he expected them to come up with one last effort to save themselves from the humiliation of a 4-0 whitewash. Don’t know why I said that Pujara would win it for India. Pujara is relatively new to International cricket, but somehow I felt that he is not one to fail in these circumstances. Thanks to some impressive rearguard action by Peter Siddle, Australia managed to take their lead past 150. But the 200 mark that I predicted was a long way off as India needed only 155 to win and make history by clean sweeping a series of 4 or more tests for the first time in the history of Indian cricket.
Then Chetheshwar Pujara came out to open with Murali Vijay and India started scoring easily and even though 4 wickets were lost, an Indian win always looked like a formality to be completed . Pujara stroked all around the ground and against all bowlers too. He was so much at ease on a difficult wicket to bat on that even his teammates too appeared to be batting on a different track to him. He finished unbeaten on 82 from 92 balls. So that was it . The series was over. 4-0 to India.
Later that evening I had a discussion with one of my cousins who is also as much a cricket buff as I am. As usual we discussed at lengths about all that happened in this match. Even though most of what we said were Tendulkar centric, like how he now finds it difficult to come on to the front foot and smother the spin while defending and how he would fare in South Africa and all, there were other things too like how Rahane had squandered an opportunity and how Jadeja had turned into a true match winner. Then there was Chetheshwar Pujara. There was no pleasant surprise about his performance. It was pleasing but not surprising we felt.
One of the things we both concurred about Pujara was that he always seems to be in control of the game, not just his own game, but from the team’s perspective too. He just has that innate ability to score at just about the right pace that the situation demands of him. Often he has been compared with Rahul Dravid, but from the evidences of what he has done so far in his career, his game has more resemblances to other number three batsmen like Ricky Ponting and Hashim Amla. By no means, he is already in that league but we felt that he provides that right mix of caution and aggression that the team needs.
Let us have a look at his career so far and the major innings he has played in test match cricket. India were chasing 207 to win the match in the fourth innings in his debut match and as part of a team strategy to distribute experience across the batting line up uniformly he was promoted to number 3. He played positively and scored 72 off 89 balls. It was a very modest target and it was Pujara’s approach that helped to make light work of it. After his long lay off from International cricket because of injuries, Pujara came back to the team to play against New Zeland in 2012 and marked his comeback with 158 in the first Innings at Hyderabad. India were batting first and their score of 438 was more than enough to make the New Zelanders bat twice and secure victory.
Then his next big score came in the first test against England. There again in the first innings, he scored 206, his first double hundred and that laid the foundations for an easy victory by the fifth day morning. Then in the second test match at Mumbai, he played an innings which required more skill and temperament than his double hundred at Ahmadabad because the pitch at Mumbai had some demons in it. He scored a patient 135 spending more than 7 hours and helped India post a respectable 327 in the first innings. But Kevin Pietersen’s all conquering return to England team meant that Pujara’s innings was all in vain and was overshadowed. Sadly he was not able to carry on with that good form through the rest of the series and India lost the series 2-1.
In the series against Australia, in the second test match at Hyderabad, he scored his second double hundred. With a partnership of 370 runs with Murali Vijay for the second wicket, he shut the door completely on the Aussies. He was the aggressive partner in their stint at the crease and scored 204 runs with 31 boundaries. If Australia had any hopes of a comeback in the series, that was sealed there with that dominant performance from Pujara and Vijay. The last match in the series was played on a rank turner at Delhi. Pujara had already scored an impressive 52 in the first innings before his second innings heroics of 82 not out.
One of the striking aspects of all these scores is that it shows that once he gets in, he rarely gives it away. Out of the 7 times he has gone past 50, he converted 4 of them into hundreds and 2 of those into double hundreds. Now, that is a very impressive conversion rate. More than the numbers, it is the influence that his scores have had on the outcome of the matches, that is to be taken into account. There are obviously some weaknesses one can identify with Pujara like his not so agile running between wickets and that tendency to sometimes play down the wrong line against spinners. But the results he has produced so far gives us hope for another great period of Indian batsmanship. Along with Virat Kohli, Pujara could become the mainstay of India’s batting for the next decade and if the signs hold true, we may get to witness more brilliantly orchestrated knocks and more great victories in the future.
Late that night I again got a message from my brother-in-law.
“Wrong Prediction from here. Perfect prediction from there. Well done, talk to you soon “. 5:05 PM, 24 Mar
“I just got that feeling like Ravi Shasthri does so often ” 8:25 PM, 24 Mar”
I replied !!!