Cheteshwar Pujara: Once down, but not out and still going strong!
Cheteshwar Pujara: A 90 off 203 odd deliveries. Then following it up with an unbeaten 102 off 130 deliveries.
Holding the fort under pressure in the first outing at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium and then, notching up a Test century at a strike rate of 78.
Things aren’t always poor or on the downhill in the life of a certain Cheteshwar Arvind Pujara.
Let that be noted.
But at the same time much of what the right hander has done- and his contributions have pretty much put India on the driving seat in the First Test- warrant question.
Where are Cheteshwar Pujara’s trollers now who actually had the audacity of insulting the mild-mannered man and for a good two years?
Would they want to offer insightful analysis on why India’s determined #3 must be dropped?
Will they actually stoop to the level of clubbing his past failures with the bat with that of Ajinkya Rahane and come up with the collective trash can of a hashtag called #Purane?
Make no mistake- the Second Test might yield a different result from the ongoing contest at Chattogram.
Not necessary that Pujara will rule the roost.
It’s cricket, hey! It ebbs and flows.
But make no mistake. The Cheteshwar Pujara you’re witnessing right now is the prototype of a man who’s Confident, in the mood.
He’s on the front foot, and forget not- he’s ready to go.
The one who’s dancing down the track and hitting the likes of Mehidy Miraz and Khalid Ahmed with rich aplomb wasn’t the Cheteshwar Pujara you saw in 2020 and 2021.
Yet, it’s interesting he’s neither the distant cousin or the Siamese twin of the man who was found struggling a couple of seasons ago.
As a matter of factly, he is the very batsman some of us insulted on social media for that’s what we do, isn’t it, at the back of a failure in a few outings with the bat?
Lest it is forgotten, from the onset of 2020 until pretty much the end of 2021, Cheteshwar Pujara made headlines for one reason and one alone.
And understandably, a lot of it was about poor batting. Though, much of it stemmed from the either one of the following factors or their combination:
Poor shot selection.
The inability to pick the seaming delivery, one that came in and also the one that swung away.
In essence, Cheteshwar Pujara became the bunny of Kyle Jamieson besides being the sitting duck for Pat Cummins.
For someone who averaged 20 in 2020, as if it was meant to rhyme, there wasn’t much that the Saurashtra batsman was able to achieve the following year.
Well, the average of the once perennially hungry batsman rose to 28 in 2021.
And that was that; the big runs weren’t coming.
Yet, something about his 2020 in pure whites eschewed the stain of poor form.
His 43 at the First Test at the Adelaide Oval was a knock that, once again, magnified that ability to hold onto an end.
Surely, India’s reply to the Aussies’ first inning score of 191 saw Kohli produce a gritty 74. Though it wasn’t that Pujara’s 160-delivery-effort didn’t play its part.
However scant that lead, India went past 240 on a bouncy and swingy track and put their nose ahead of the Aussies.
But that was December.
Eight months earlier, Pujara walked out to bat with Mayank Agarwal falling early for 7 in the Second Test at the Hagley Oval.
One saw Boult and Southee hunting in pair.
Then there was a certain Kyle Jamieson probing the Indian batters from a not-so-tiny altitude of 2.03 meters on the 22 yards.
And finally, there was plenty of chin music all thanks to the Wagner you don’t exactly associate with classical music.
Though there was a little problem for Williamson’s men; Cheteshwar Pujara was there.
And he stayed there.
He stayed put for two consecutive sessions and converted New Zealand’s red ball exertion into an almost operatic display of batting where the simple act of leaving the red ball outside off was an art form second to none.
It was smooth yet solid. It was eye-pleasing to the cricket fan habitual of trolling Test cricket in his salivating greed for T20’s and yet, an eyesore from New Zealand’s point of view.
Pujara’s defiance was on display; the 54 off 140 deliveries kept India in the contest somewhat.
King Kohli, meanwhile, succumbed to 3.
That was akin to the ongoing Chattogram contest, where the heroics of the team’s number # 3 reminded one and all and perhaps with much humility that Indian cricket isn’t just only the magnificence of Virat Kohli.
That what also contributes to the solidity of the Test line-up is a certain Cheteshwar Pujara who’s the near perfect foil to the great bat that India’s former captain is.
One who blew the opposition away with his tough-as-nails patience whilst actually taking body blows in that January 2021 showdown.
A contest where Australians literally didn’t stop at anything in dislodging the batsman they ultimately failed against.
On the fifteenth of January 2023, two years would have passed since Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins- the much loved captain who frequently goes for the bodyline- failed to halt India at The Gabba.
Pant with a blinder (89), Gill with arguably his finest knock thus far (91), and Australia with the the ignominy of seeing The Gabba breached will remind world cricket of just why it’s stupid to taunt India.
Yet, it’ll also remind one of the value of simplicity and that not everything on the cricket pitch is about giving it back or stooping to the level of an opponent like Australia and their level back then.
That while Cricket has indeed become a sport that finds itself in the fast lane, it’s thanks to guys like Cheteshwar Pujara and their 56 off 211 (during India’s winning cause), that it’s still about silent strength and not just about the spewing venom from tongue.
Surely, cricket is also about savagery. A display of skill with nothing held back.
We’ve seen Sir Viv. We’ve loved Sehwag. And we’ve admired Lara and Ponting.
But it’s thanks to the Pujaras, his own man despite being Dravid-esque where doggedness is concerned, that we learn that there’s more to the game.
That a loss of form can last only as long as your next best inning.
That the Rajkot-born’s moment of 2022 has perhaps come with his 19th Test century is refreshing, stress busting and what a relief.
Yet, it must also tell the hopeless cricket tragic that the sport – beyond plaudits, mindgames and adjectives- is about picking oneself up.
Which is why its humbling to recount that the very Pujara we are praising today – and why shouldn’t we- had made only 865 runs from 18 Tests from the onset of 2020 until 2021 went down!