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Stats Analysis

Stats: Cheteshwar Pujara's front-foot defending woes

His collapsed back leg while defending on the front foot has often helped him, but it has also caused his downfall often in recent times

Shiva Jayaraman
Cheteshwar Pujara walks back after being dismissed by James Anderson, England vs India, 4th Test, The Oval, London, 1st day, September 2, 2021

File pic: Cheteshwar Pujara scored his second duck in three innings  •  Associated Press

Cheteshwar Pujara's lean run in Tests continued with his second duck in his last three innings. It's been a while since Pujara has scored a hundred in Tests, but his form has dipped sharply in the recent past with his average falling below 45 - for the first time since 2012 - in the last couple of innings.
While there could be other technical and psychological factors affecting Pujara's batting at present, the persistent issue of his backward leg collapsing while going on to his front foot hasn't gone away. His first innings dismissal on the first day in Centurion to Lungi Ngidi caught by backward short leg was perhaps the latest example of that.
Pujara's collapsed back leg while defending on the front foot has often helped him keep his hands low on pitches that don't offer much bounce, but it has also caused his downfall much too often in the recent past. The flip side of a collapsed leg is that he doesn't get as close to the pitch of the ball as possible, which leaves both edges of his bat vulnerable as it happend in this innings. Footwork data recorded by ESPNcricinfo shows that front-foot defence has indeed been an issue for Pujara: since the beginning of 2018, Pujara has been out defending on the front foot in 29 out of 65 Test innings. No batter in this period has been out defending on the front foot more often. Pujara gets dismissed every 40.3 balls playing the front-foot defence on an average, which is the seventh-lowest among 64 batters to have defended on the front foot at least 300 times in Tests since 2018.
Jonny Bairstow, KL Rahul and Roston Chase are three among the six batters who have done worse than Pujara among these 64. They are among the top five batters most frequently dismissed lbw or bowled since 2018. A malaise Pujara himself was afflicted by until not too long ago, before he made technical adjustments to counter that. However, with an uncorrected collapsed back leg, that adjustment probably only meant that Pujara started playing inside the line of the ball more often than he used to.
One may argue that a weak front-foot defence is symptomatic of a batter woefully out of form, but consider Ajinkya Rahane in this aspect. He is another India batter in dire need of runs. Rahane does almost twice as well as Pujara defending on the front foot with a dismissal rate of once in 79 balls on an average (from data recorded before the start of Rahane's first innings in Centurion). For a measure of how good batters can be defending on the front foot - Kane Williamson, arguably the batter with the best defending technique at present, has been out defending on the front foot only twice in the 783 times he has attempted that shot - that's once in every 391 balls. That's nearly ten times as assured front-foot defending as Pujara's.

Shiva Jayaraman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo @shiva_cricinfo