India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Hyderabad, 1st day

The delight of keeping it pure and simple

The uniqueness of Cheteshwar Pujara's century lay in its understated approach

Abhishek Purohit in Hyderabad

August 23, 2012

Comments: 55 | Text size: A | A

Cheteshwar Pujara plays a square-cut, India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Hyderabad, 1st day, August 23, 2012
No frills attached © Associated Press
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We have read numerous adjectives over the years describing the various batsmen who made up India's great Test line-up of recent vintage. Over time, with almost every adjective, you could tell the batsmen it was being used for. Think marauder, perfectionist, immaculate, stylist: think Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman. In the coming years, if Cheteshwar Pujara keeps doing what he did today - and he probably will - we'll read one more: batsman. Nothing more, just batsman. Because Pujara just bats, no frills attached, the way a woodcutter cuts wood, the way a painter paints, the way any worker works.

Not for a delivery is he unattractive, but he is not attractive either. Not for a delivery does he seem to be making too much of an effort, but he is not effortless either. Not for a delivery does he seem to be taking too much pressure, but he is not unbothered either. He just does his job like it is to be done.

Like he did today, at No. 3 against New Zealand. He came in when India had got a start, nothing more, with Virender Sehwag slamming fours. As was required at the stage, Pujara let Sehwag do his thing while he lasted. When Sehwag fell, he took his time to rebuild in a quiet partnership with Tendulkar, but with the latter in defensive mode, Pujara outscored his senior partner.

From 125 for 3, he and Virat Kohli doubled the score, matching each other stroke for stroke and giving the Hyderabad crowd more than a glimpse into India's Test batting future. And yes, Pujara comfortably outscored Kohli in the partnership, in terms of runs and strike-rate. As he said later, it is just his image that he is defensive.

When Kohli and Suresh Raina fell in quick succession, Pujara had more rebuilding to do, along with MS Dhoni, with the second new ball not far away. Now Dhoni is one of the last batsmen who will be outscored in partnerships; Pujara let his captain dominate their stand. In other words, to sum up his entire innings in one line, Pujara did just what was required throughout the day.

He was playing his first Test in over a year-and-a-half, injury and recovery having eaten up much of his time. He was up initially against New Zealand's best bowler of the day, Trent Boult. There was a short leg, short midwicket, shortish backward square leg, and fine leg. New Zealand were clear where they were going to target the young batsman. Pujara knew as well. Right back he went, and defended the short deliveries. He didn't flinch, he didn't back away, he didn't hop around, he didn't look to swing his way out of pressure. He just defended calmly and firmly.

Off his 46th delivery, he decided enough was enough, and clubbed a short Chris Martin delivery to deep square leg for four. It was not a pull, it was not a hook, it was somewhere in between. But it was whole-hearted. As were all his strokes. Again, unlike the image he has.

His cuts and punches stood out. Again, they were whole-hearted. Pujara was in the air at times as he ended these shots. New Zealand kept giving him width, and he kept thumping them. Of course, there were orthodox cover drives and steers, but those we have been told to expect from Pujara.

He showed awareness in targeting the part-time offspinner Kane Williamson for three boundaries to race to 95. For two deliveries against James Franklin, only two, he revealed to the world that he was nervous about being in the 90s for the first time in international cricket. He mishit a forcing push to Franklin off one that stayed low, and extravagantly flicked the next one to midwicket.

Forcing. Extravagant. Both frills. The pure batsman re-emerged immediately. Two of the remaining four balls in the over were left alone, two were defended. As they needed to be. Pujara said later he was mentally strong enough to handle those moments.

The hundred was brought up in due course, the celebration had some emotion, but what is noteworthy is that after reaching the landmark, Pujara faced 57 more deliveries till stumps, which included a let-off by the umpire when he was on 117.

He said he had wanted to make a debut Test hundred, had missed out [he made 72] and was satisfied to get his maiden century, which he dedicated to his father. "He has been working really hard on me ever since my childhood. He went through some tough time in his life - he had a bypass surgery - and he's still coaching me. I'm very thankful to him and would like to dedicate this to both my parents.

"The first target [tomorrow] is to put up 400 on the board and then individually, if I can score a double-hundred, it will be great," Pujara said. He is on 119, and already thinking about getting a double. Somehow, when he said it, it didn't sound like a boast. It didn't sound fake as well.

Have India found their new No. 3 in place of the colossus who played 164 Tests? They could have. But for the moment, India have a young batsman who bats, pure and simple. Savour him, for he is a rarity.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by venbas on (August 24, 2012, 20:44 GMT)

@jezzastyles - Yes, That is what I wanted to highlight. NZ are never push overs and their sum total of team contributions is always larger than any individual flashes of brilliance in the opposition ranks. Just because Pujara got a century against NZ, some people were trying to run down the performance as bluff that should be exposed by Australia/England. My point is more than the century result, it was the technique and temperament that stood out for Pujara. In this test he has made the lions share of the total and had almost carried his bat. But for him, India might have been bowled out inside 200 and possibly lost the 'home' test in their own backyard. Hope he carries on in the same form and we get 2-3 more players like him for Test Cricket. India and Test cricket needs players like Pujara to shore up the exits of the greats.

Posted by praveen4honestremark on (August 24, 2012, 9:35 GMT)

It's wrong place to put views, but had to put...Dhoni's decision to play 4 bowlers in a test match is RIDICULOUS.I just noticed it and it was MINDLESS DECISION by Dhoni to say the least.

Posted by ste13 on (August 24, 2012, 9:23 GMT)

There is then nothing wrong with Indian batting. Pujara, Kohli have already proven their international class. However, I think Tendulkar should follow his younger colleagues and declare his time on test cricket. This will only do goods for younger players who can only progress. Bowling is another story - we shall see, but even NZ will be a test.

Posted by Muhtasim13 on (August 24, 2012, 9:14 GMT)

I'm not a fan of India, but I'll have to admit that Pujara has got really strong nerves.

Posted by srikanths on (August 24, 2012, 8:30 GMT)

To the topic under discussion, Pujara, he did appear quite unhurried and calm, a look of quiet efficiency about him

The 72 he scored against Australia in 2010 was very attractive, attacking and bold, especially after he had got out for 4 in the first innings

He is one, who does appear to have the talent and temperament

It is quite possible that in the long run, he would come out better than a Kohli

Just hope Raina and Rohit Sharma improve and get in to the team.

Rain's one big weakness , the shortball, not insurmountable as someone pointed out taking Bairstow as a case in point

Rohit Sharma needed a kick in the back but now seems to be very low on cofidence. Needs a good big knock at International level

Posted by mikriket on (August 24, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

Just as excepted--India 400-450 and then NZ compiling about the same but requiring two innings to do so, with McCullen, Flynn and Franklan not making any decent score and Taylor making oerhaps one decent score

Posted by srikanths on (August 24, 2012, 7:45 GMT)

Was planning to see part of Bangalore test. Not so sure now. It was quite painful to see Tendulkar scratch around for a laboured 19.

Last time , had gone to see Ind Vs Australia . Saw him score 44 no , overnight and the next day, I gave the match a skip and our man scored a double ton. Atleast got to see him bat a bit .

Such a great player. Pained to see anything less than dominating and silken touch from him.Not the right attitude on the part of fans but that is how one viewed things when it came to Tendulkar.

As Boycott says ,batting is a game of being in exact position, a fraction here or there out of place, you are gone.Age is showing and playing up now

I just hope it is not a repeat of Dravid In Australia, getting bowled, being slightly slow to react.

So nice to cling on to the idea of Tendulkar of old,clinical sometimes, attacking other times.

Posted by vaidyar on (August 24, 2012, 7:44 GMT)

Exactly what I noticed too. There are no frills. He isn't a Graeme Smith on one end, he isn't a Laxman either or a Dravid with a flourishing follow-through either. He plays like Kallis - efficient, not ugly, not beautiful either. If he does well, he will end up being described like Kallis - nothing to describe. Notice that most sport-writers can't think of anything to write about Kallis barring the amount of runs scored. Will do for Indian cricket.

Posted by   on (August 24, 2012, 7:24 GMT)

On the evidence of this innings (as I write, he's just been dismissed for 159), Pujara has a rock-solid technique, an unflappable temperament, near-impeccable timing & as wide an array of strokes as he's ever going to need on Indian pitches. A work in progress, certainly, but, given time, he looks like a fitting replacement for the lordly Dravid. For me, the most fascinating sub-plot of the forthcoming India/England series lies in the battle of the tyros: Kohli, Pujara, Rahane, Ashwin & Yadav versus Bairstow, Taylor, Finn, Woakes & Root (assuming the latter two are selected). It's a mouth-watering prospect.

Posted by jezzastyles on (August 24, 2012, 7:23 GMT)

@venbas: AUS have learnt the hard way to never underestimate the Kiwi's, they're fighters one & all. Hope you give a good accounting of yourselves. Best of luck to both teams.

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