Virat Kohli's performance on the 2014-15 Australia tour - 692 runs at 86.50 in four Tests - was one of the best by an Indian batsman for many reasons. It not only established Kohli as one of India's best batsmen but also ensured that the focus of opposition teams was always on him. While Australia have been busy making plans for Kohli over their last two Test series against India, away and at home. they have fallen well short against India's next best batsman - Cheteshwar Pujara.
On Thursday, Pujara completed his 18th Test century, his fifth against Australia, on the opening day of the fourth Test in Sydney. Pujara's knock ensured India ended the day in a commanding position.
Pujara has not only scored the centuries but has also played series-defining knocks over India's last two series against Australia. India were on the verge of losing the Test, and possibly the series, on more than one occasion, but Pujara's knocks saved them. His 92 in the second innings in Bengaluru, when the team was trailing by 87 runs, and his marathon 202 in Ranchi, when India were more than 120 behind, were instrumental in beating Australia at home. In the current series, Pujara ensured India got to a respectable score after a poor start in Adelaide. With the openers failing consistently, Pujara has had to walk in more often than not in the first five overs. Pujara became only the third Indian to score three or more centuries in a series in Australia. Virat Kohli and Sunil Gavaskar are the only others to have achieved this.
While Australia can claim to have had the better of Kohli over the last two series, they have not found a solution to get rid of Pujara early in his innings. In both series, Pujara has clearly been the difference between the two sides. He has scored almost twice as many runs as the next-best batsman from India, and averages in excess of 65. In the current series, Pujara's tally of 458 runs is twice that of Australia's highest run-scorer Travis Head, who has 217 runs, and the 1135 balls faced by Pujara is more than twice as many as the 509 balls faced by Usman Khawaja. Pujara is the big reason why India are up 2-1.
Blunting the Aussie attack
No one picked up Pujara at his base price of INR 50 lakhs at the IPL auction in late December. However, it is impossible to put a price tag to his Test performances. Having to bat within the first few overs every Test, Pujara has played his role to perfection by blunting the new ball and ensuring that the Australia bowlers bowled as many overs as possible. The last two series against Australia have been the best for Pujara in terms of balls faced in any series he has been part of. Pujara went past the 1049 balls he faced when Australia toured India in 2017, and is climbing the charts for the most deliveries faced by a visiting batsman in a series comprising four or fewer matches in Australia.
Pujara's ability to play long innings has put him in another elite list - he is the first batsman since Geoffrey Boycott in 1970-71 to face more than 200 balls in an innings on four occasions in a series in Australia. A lot of players have had successful tours of Australia but very few have blunted the bowling like Pujara has.
Countering the Lyon threat
Coming into the series Pujara had been dismissed by Nathan Lyon seven times. Although he had scored 232 runs off 522 deliveries from Lyon, the offspinner had dismissed him once every 75 balls. In this series, Pujara has handled Lyon without any trouble, scoring 164 runs from 364 balls while being dismissed only once. Pujara hasn't just been the best player of spin in this series, but also the best player of spin across the world since January 2018. He has scored 356 runs off 669 balls and has been dismissed only twice, averaging 178 in this period, the best for any batsman. KL Rahul and AB de Villiers are other batsmen with impressive records against spin in this period.