India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 2nd day November 16, 2012

Pujara's happy vibes

It took Cheteshwar Pujara a lot of hard work to earn a second chance at Test cricket after injury but he is now grasping that opportunity with both hands

It's a season of comparisons after the slots vacated by Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. With Cheteshwar Pujara batting at No. 3, similarities are being looked for between him and Dravid. This is not to endorse any of that - he is yet to prove himself outside the subcontinent - but one look at Pujara's celebrations, and you know Laxman is the man he is more like. He has that calm on his face, that satisfaction, that look of a man who is between a hearty meal and an afternoon nap on a sunny winter Sunday. Like Laxman, when he reaches a milestone, it seems all is well with the world.

All this shouldn't need mentioning, but of late celebrations by Indian players make you wonder if they are actually making a living doing something that is supposed to bring them joy. All the other youngsters nowadays take a catch and throw the ball down in disgust. They take a wicket and are in the face of the batsman. They score a hundred and swear. You forget it's some sport you are watching.

The typical young Indian cricketer is perennially angry at something or the other. It just feels at times that he is fighting an unjust world that is wronging him. Media, fans, commentators, they are all their enemies. You can understand the pressure they play under, the scrutiny, and also perhaps the limited opportunities they get, but Pujara has not had it easy either.

Pujara scored tonnes of runs in domestic cricket but initially that brought him more ridicule than recognition. He comes from a region where runs are automatically devalued. Even Ravindra Jadeja has scored a triple-century in Saurashtra, and another on a similar track in Gujarat. It is a perception hard to shrug off. Primarily because of his Rajkot origin, Pujara saw other young batsmen - arguably less deserving - get chances and endorsements ahead of him.

When Pujara's chance finally did arrive, he scored a sparkling half-century when promoted to turn a tricky chase into a cakewalk. Now that he had begun to reveal the quality behind the Rajkot runs, another setback awaited. During an IPL game, at the same venue that he made his debut, Bangalore, Pujara dived on one of the worst outfields in India and was out of commission with a knee injury.

Two knee operations later, Pujara found himself right at the back of the queue. This was also a period when his father went through a heart ailment. His mother had died when he was young, and now this religious family of two had only each other to lean on.

To come back from all that, Pujara went to the West Indies with the A team, and on tough pitches he scored Laxman-like runs when all others failed. If any other youngster had gone through all this, he would have reacted differently to how Pujara did after reaching his second century in three Tests on return, and also his first Test double.

And Pujara is only improving as a batsman with every Test. As Ravi Shastri observed, Pujara is perhaps the only young batsman in India who can attack spinners without going in the air. Throughout his effort in Ahmedabad, one that has all but batted England out of the Test, Pujara disheartened the bowlers. After an early chance that lobbed James Anderson at mid-on, he took no risk. Nor did he look anxious to reach a landmark or to prove a point.

Quietly and unobtrusively, he kept the good balls out and cashed in on the loose ones. Batting is simple, isn't it? Most impressive was his quick judgement of length against the best bowler on show, Graeme Swann, who had earlier outwitted a good player of spin, Gautam Gambhir, by bowling full with a flat trajectory. Gambhir kept going back as soon as he saw the ball wasn't tossed up, but kept discovering they were a bit too full to be playing off the back foot.

Pujara even outscored Virender Sehwag in a partnership of 90 without playing a shot in anger. He even had words of advice for Sachin Tendulkar when the latter just walked in. He also had the fitness to keep going on and on. Of the 16 first-class centuries he has scored, nine have crossed 150 to go with one 148 not out. It becomes even better in recent times: eight of his last 10 hundreds have been 150-plus.

He had to do a fair share of running too: only 41% of his runs came in boundaries. He wasn't flustered when R Ashwin inverted the laws of calling when running between the wickets. Most importantly, though, when he ran his 100th and 200th runs, he made sure he won't be embarrassed years later when he is watching the tapes with his grandchildren.

This is not to put down somebody like Virat Kohli, who is more expressive in his celebrations. It's their method, it's how they have played their cricket. Some players even find that that bit of needle and anger brings out their best. It's just that among an increasing crowd of players who sometimes make you doubt if they are enjoying their game as much as they should, it's good to see a non-angry young man.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 8:39 GMT

    Makes you wonder...what other treasures lie in the hinterland of Indian domestic cricket? Only today read an article of the "Nearly-there men in Indian cricket" and felt that what would have Amol Muzumdar, A W Zaidi done if they had reached. Can BCCI make a rule that the top 2 scorers and top 2 wicket takers in Ranji get to travel with the Indian team by default? Amol Muzumdar mentioned how he didnt get to even get into Challenger teams??? Felt very sad at reading of such a loss of talent!!!

  • VaRUN on November 17, 2012, 7:16 GMT

    @martyfartyu - Do you even watch cricket? England just lost a home series to SA. When did India lose a test series at home without winning a single game? England lost to Pak away. Only claim to fame is the Ashes which will soon be lost come 2013. England is a not just a team on the wane, but a train wreck on fire my friend. Oh btw, for someone who is a grammar police, your comment has loads of grammatical errors.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 5:52 GMT

    if only the elephant vacate the place, becuse it canot be booted out. many others r willing to prove their credentials(rahanas,tiwaris,rohiths,pandeys etc)

  • Martin on November 17, 2012, 3:59 GMT

    I am sorry, whilst I think that there was an error in not picking a second spinner, all this trash about England not being a good team any more is simply that, trash.

    India have only lost 49 tests at home out of 232 matches, that is the same lose at home ratio as England. All these people arguing that England need to adapt need to understand that home advantage for the subcontinent teams is a significant factor.

    Why didn't India scored big runs in England with their 'stellar' bnatting line up on their last tour? That's because home advantage suited our bowlers, much as the slow turning pitches suit the Indians here.

    As for England being on the wane, can't see it myself. Yes, we have no express paced bowlers, but apart from Dale Steyn I can't see any fast bowler getting anything out of this pitch.

    As for the article itself, not well written, poor use of English and too quick to jump on the bandwagon!

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 2:34 GMT

    Pujara - always looked set for the no:3 position. Very happy to see him succeed. Am certain he will do well overseas too. Will be good to see if he curbs his hook shots overseas which is one area which leads to his downfall. I hope the selectors give Badri a chance when sachin hangs his boots sometime next year. Even at 32, he is very fit and can play no: 4 or 5 very effectively for say 40 odd tests. He will succeed if he is given a run... Much more than Raina or Rohit Sharma ever will. Both of them are ideal for T20 and for one dayers. Rahane and Tiwary deserve their breaks too atleast regularly in one day and when one of the top 6 is tests... Rahane would ease into the openers slot. Mandeep Singh and Unmukt Chand should get their chances in one day and T20 too....That will set the base for 10-12 terrific batsmen to succeed across all formats....We do have the nucleus to do well is key breaks are given early....

  • KISH on November 17, 2012, 2:05 GMT

    Dravid stayed on the team far too long. When Pujara was promoted at number3 in that match against Australia in a run chase, that should have been Dravid's last match. Then, we could have had a good Number3, with experience in all the conditions, by now. Ganguly was also a culprit for staying on too long. Yuvraj definitely could have made that slot for himself a long time ago. Tendulkar was ok to cotinue on, because he was performing. But, now, he is staying on too long. He should have retired after the Australian tour. Laxman is the only guy who didn't stay any more than he had to. There was no need to drop Laxman before the Australian tour. So, he timed his retirement right. Maybe only because he was the only one who could become a scapegoat of selectors frequently and he understood it.

  • KISH on November 17, 2012, 1:59 GMT

    Why should someone be embarassed infront of their grand children for showing emotions on the field? I just don't get it. Sports involveds a lot of emotions. It is the expressions of that emotions that brings the competitive edge in many people, as the writer himself pointed out. So, there is nothing wrong in showing the emotions and it is also good for the crowd. The grand children will only appreciate it when they see it so many years after.

  • lakshminarayan on November 17, 2012, 1:47 GMT

    Dear Sidharth, You have always written intelligently. But, here, wanting to look different you have brought a 'VVS' simile, which is quite painfully silly. the silken touch of VVS is definitely not there. For that matter, the panache of Dravid with his favourite shots is also not there. But, Pujara is more like Dravid in his tenacity and patience in buliding a big score.Once he gets his credentials established outside Indian shores he is there for many many long years.and, coming into #3 slot the Dravid simile is the more suitable. Also, let us recognise that even though no person is irreplaceab there could be no another Kapil, Sachin, Dravid or VVS. Similarly, there could be no another Pujara. Best Wishes to him!

  • Matthew on November 17, 2012, 0:29 GMT

    May i congratulate Pujara on his innings, and also for having the best name in world cricket. Who wouldn't want to be called Cheteshwar?

  • Naresh on November 16, 2012, 21:40 GMT


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