India v Australia, 2nd Test, Bangalore, 5th day October 13, 2010

A boy with a clear mind and crisp shots

Promoted to a high-pressure role on debut, Cheteshwar Pujara showed he realised the responsibilities of Test cricket and enjoyed them

An innocent little moment featuring Cheteshwar Pujara stood out more than the cover drives he unleashed against Australia on a fifth-day pitch.

He had played beautifully against the fast bowlers and the lone spinner to reach a quick 20 when the giant screen at the Chinnaswamy Stadium showed a highlights package during an over break. Pujara indulged. He made the others wait for four or five seconds as he watched how he looked, smashing Test bowlers around in a tricky chase. He saw he looked immaculate. It was the kind of moment most of us go through. Journalists like to see how their names look in the byline font. Actors like to see how they look once the editing is done.

They are also very personal moments. Thanks to modern technology, though, Pujara lived that personal moment live, unedited. At that point we were suddenly reminded he was just a 22-year-old boy. Never mind that the boy was making his debut. Never mind that a nasty grubber had ended his first innings three balls into the effort. Never mind that the boy had come in to bat at No. 3, in place of Rahul Dravid, when India lost Virender Sehwag early in the chase of 207. Never mind that the boy was fast ending the contest. Never mind that he knew he would have to vacate the place when VVS Laxman returns.

Never mind that the crowd unwittingly let Pujara know whose place he was taking. Sehwag had barely walked off when huge cheers started in anticipation of Dravid, the home boy. Pujara was as much a surprise to the Bangaloreans as to the Australians. If you were a debutant walking out then, you couldn't have not felt the pressure.

It was a great move, though. It gave the debutant an opportunity to show what he was made of, before being left out for who knows how long. It was surely a surprise to the opposition, who didn't know how he would react to a tight chase in Test cricket. It separated the youngsters, Pujara and Suresh Raina, and kept Dravid back in case there was a collapse.

It helped that Pujara had been told he would be batting No. 3 before the day's play began.

"He is kind of a stroke-player," MS Dhoni said. "He will play his shots if you bowl in his area. I thought the Australians would look to get him out quickly and attack him more, which is what happened. That gave Pujara the opportunity to score in boundaries." Dhoni said Pujara was up for it when told of the plan to promote him. He saw it as an opportunity to play a defining innings on debut.

The situation, though, called for more than just a boy. Or perhaps it helped that he was just a boy, with a clear mind and crisp shots. Failure was perhaps not contemplated. The scoring opportunities, as Dhoni said, arrived in due time. The third ball Pujara faced, he drove Mitchell Johnson through the covers. The grubber wasn't going to get him either. He punched it, from Ben Hilfenhaus, for four.

Pujara reserved his best for Nathan Hauritz. He came down the track to the first ball of spin he faced in Test cricket and drove it wide of long-on for two. He danced down again, driving Hauritz wide of mid-off. And then again, going through extra cover. It was the dance of the clear mind, the dance of the man who would soon see on the big screen that he belonged.

At 26 off 22, it was as if he was batting at the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium in Rajkot, in a West Zone Ranji one-dayer. Except he was setting up India's tenth-highest successful chase in Tests, at a venue where India hadn't won for 15 years.

During the lunch break Australia recovered a bit, and cut out the drive balls. By then, though, Pujara could do what he has done best in first-class cricket: play solid, risk-free cricket. He has also spent the last two or three years looking at other, less prolific, run-makers leapfrog him, and has become more positive in his approach, scoring at a higher pace - if that is what was needed to make it.

That showed in how Pujara played almost all his shots with ease, except that the cut wasn't as furious as those of India's regular No. 3. Johnson tried the short stuff, but Pujara pulled, and he kept those pulls down too. With every passing over he grew surer. He was a youngster realising the possibilities of Test cricket as he went along. He was enjoying it. He tackled Peter George's accuracy well, played Hilfenhaus' swing with the middle of the bat, and punished Johnson. He saw Hauritz, and said "Runs", scoring 25 off 19 balls from the offspinner.

It was Hauritz who ended Pujara's dream innings with his best ball of the tour, dipping and then going straight on, beating Pujara's outside edge. Disappointed, Pujara walked back, realising perhaps how close he had been to a debut century in the fourth innings of a match. He would have become only the seventh man to have scored one. Then he saw and heard the warm crowd reception, who had earlier cheered thinking he was Dravid. He raised his bat to them. They would have been just as pleased had Dravid played that innings from No. 3.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohit on October 16, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    A beautiful and poignant article. Well done Siddharth. Hats off sir.

  • jack on October 16, 2010, 7:09 GMT

    @Gilliana, your comment is a joke right

  • Anit on October 16, 2010, 1:46 GMT

    Agreed it is too early to put Pujara on pedestal. But the aging line needs to be replenished too. The way Dravid is playing for the last two years, it looks like his self life getting close to being over. The change of guard process needs to continue. Even Laxman seems to have serious fitness problems.

  • Coolest on October 15, 2010, 19:25 GMT

    Cheteshwar Pujara showed that he is in a different class altogether, and not in the Rania/Vijay/Gambhir "struggling against the short ball" class. He was busy pulling n smashing the bouncers when on the other end Murali Vijay was struggling against the same bouncers. Mark my words, he is the next Sachin Tendulkar of Inidan cricket. Player like Rania, Vijay and Gambhir are always remain the wannabes of the next big thing that Cheteshwar Pujara will become when Dravid "once upon a time" player finally retires......

  • vasu on October 15, 2010, 14:02 GMT

    Safwan123, to say India does not deserve #1 because they did not win in Aus/SA is a ridiculous comment. Do you realize it is a ranking, and not a measure of perfection. It happened that for a decade Australia and prior to that, WI, were so perfect and dominant, perhaps we got used to a different definition of #1. But the rank simply means who is th ebest of the lot. ANd that ranking is done objectively, based on a system that all nations agreed to apriori, and India won fair and square, even if your obvious Pakistani bias does not allow you to see it. And if not India, who? Australia? They did not exactly win in India, and when India played them down under, the result was much closer, not to mention losses at home to SA, loss in Ashes, and so on. Would SA be your #1 - why? Did n't they lose to Aus at home, and they also did not win in India? Or would you prefer Sri Lanka? Yes, the Lankans record is so brilliant in Australia, SA, etc. You are so right, case closed.

  • safwan on October 15, 2010, 11:12 GMT

    every boy looks good on flat indian, pakistani and srilankan wickets. Its only when these poor souls move out and play on bowler-friendly pitches that their technical faults are exposed. India are the number one test team and have played some good cricket. But they will only deserve this number one spot if they start winning test-series abroad. A plethora of home test matches has catapulted their ranking and batting averages!

  • vas on October 15, 2010, 9:24 GMT

    Tendulkar praised everybody but forgot to mention captain genius Dhoni's captaincy. Apart from managing the bowlers, sending Pujara up the order was a masterstroke. With regular order with Dravid at 3 in the 4th innings, the chase might've taken the same pattern as in Mohali and it would've been much closer than it turned out. Dhoni has a royal touch in everything he does. Well done India.

  • JIGNESH on October 15, 2010, 8:39 GMT

    @ Abhimanyu and all other, Don't forget Maharashtrian opener Ajinkye Rhane carries 66.67 in 4 days first class cricket, and also good average and strike rate in domestic 50 over format. And Rhane also blasted century against current Australian team with more runs than balls. You are right Pujara and Mukund are very good choice for ODIs and Pujara and Rhane are also good choice for Test format. If the selectors of India won't look at the domestic players average, then why they made them to play domestic cricket? If this 3 players-Rhane, Mukund, Pujara couldn't get a chance in national team of India, they should apply for England county cricket teams. Rohit Sharma is the most struggler in Indian ODI team. Look at his average and look at his strike rate. His strike rate is so high if this is 1970s. These days the strike rate is below 80 won't get a chance in ODIs. But he always get a chance. May be he is a bitch of any selector of Indian Cricket Team.

  • Dummy4 on October 15, 2010, 7:19 GMT

    Sidharth your article to boost a new comer is really good, Pujara deserves this coz he is a prolific run scorer in domestic circuit. But this is technology world my dear friend its easy to crack u by that technology (eg Mendis mystery is no more). Even the "University of Batting" and the "WALL" were cracked by that technology. Since its his (Pujara) debut, Aussies don't know much abt him and captain clever (MSD) utilized it to perfection. Let see how Pujara performs when he is given the longer run.If he performs well then let us be happy that we got a good replacement....... in coming matches teams will come with plans to attack pujara, if he lives to the expectation then he will be a key player in future for Team India. Wish him all success :-)

  • Vikram on October 15, 2010, 5:53 GMT

    Most of the comments here are more rational regarding the idea of replacing Dravid with Pujara than most of the media. Yes, it is sensational to point at such possibilities, but replacing 144 tests with 1 based on that 1 test is stupidity. As the article here points out, there are only 4 occasions in India's last 50 tests when none of Sachin Dravid and Laxman have contributed.... ... that's something which makes you realise the worth of the trio ... and pushing Dravid out of the team is not what India needs right now.

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