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Stats Analysis

Stats - Why Pujara's contribution is much more than just the runs he scores

A statistical look at the impact India's Test No. 3 has had since his debut in October 2010

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
15-Feb-2023
Cheteshwar Pujara is set to play his 100th Test in Delhi  •  Associated Press

Cheteshwar Pujara is set to play his 100th Test in Delhi  •  Associated Press

Since Cheteshwar Pujara made his Test debut in October 2010, only four batters have faced more deliveries than his 15,797 in this format: Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Azhar Ali and Steven Smith. That, in a nutshell, illustrates Pujara's value to the Indian team for more than a decade. In terms of batting averages, Pujara sits at a modest 15th position among the 65 players who've played at least 50 Tests since his debut, but with him, just the runs scored doesn't paint the complete picture.
In his 13-year Test career, Pujara has been dismissed once every 99.4 deliveries. That puts him in eighth position among those 65 players mentioned above, which is significantly better than his rank based on averages. In an age when aggression and taking the attack to the bowlers is increasingly seen as the best approach, Pujara still belongs to a dwindling tribe that believes in grinding down an attack. It is an approach that has attracted a fair share of detractors, but it has also fetched him over 7000 Test runs and 19 hundreds.
As with all batters whose strength is to bat time, Pujara's value is gleaned not only by the runs he scored but also by the runs scored at the other end while he was at the crease, holding his end up. Pujara himself has scored 7021 runs in his 99 Tests, but while he has been at the crease, India have scored 15,804 partnership runs. As a percentage of total runs scored by India in those innings, Pujara's contribution stands at a healthy 30.6. That means 30.6% of India's total runs were scored while Pujara was at the crease (in the innings in which he batted).
Among the 25 India batters who have batted in at least 100 innings, only two have a higher percentage: the current coach Rahul Dravid (36%) and Sunil Gavaskar (34.9%). Following Pujara's 30.6 are the two other all-time greats of Indian batting, Sachin Tendulkar (29.7%) and Virat Kohli (29.1%). Both Tendulkar and Kohli have strike rates in the mid-50s compared to Pujara's mid-40s, which explains why the percentage is higher for Pujara. (In the overall list for all teams, Steven Smith is the leader at 36.9%, with Dravid at his most preferred slot, No.3).
Doing the same exercise with balls-faced data instead of runs scored, and comparing with his contemporaries instead of all-time, Pujara is in sixth place among the 42 players who have batted at least 100 times since his debut in October 2010. While Pujara has faced 15,797 deliveries in his Test career so far, he has been around at the crease when the opposition bowlers have bowled 31,283 balls, which is 33.4% of the total deliveries faced by India in the innings he has batted in. Only five batters have been around for a higher percentage of team deliveries faced, in these last 12 years. Smith has been phenomenal, and way ahead of the rest, while Azhar Ali, Kane Williamson, Alastair Cook and Kraigg Brathwaite are marginally ahead.
However, while it's all well and good to recognise Pujara's ability to spend long periods at the crease, which often helps other batters coming down the order, it's indisputable that the last five years have been less than prolific for him. The 2018-19 series in Australia - where he scored 521 runs in seven innings - does stand out, but it is one of only two series out of 12 where he batted at least three times, that his average touched 40. The other such series was against Bangladesh. In this period since the start of 2018, Pujara has averaged only 34.53 in 45 Tests, and has scored only five hundreds from 79 innings. It's a huge drop from an average of nearly 53 in his first 54 Tests. The rate of scoring hundreds has fallen away staggeringly, from one every 6.4 innings, to one every 15.8 innings.
Because of this huge drop in numbers, Pujara's career average has fallen by nearly nine runs, from the high of 52.96 at the end of 2017 to 44.15 now. It's still a healthy average, but not quite what he would have hoped for at the start of the 2018 season.
In fact, Pujara's numbers now bear an uncanny resemblance to those of another defensive No. 3 batter, this one from Pakistan, who retired recently just three short of the 100-Test milestone. Azhar Ali made his debut three months before Pujara, and in 97 Tests averaged 42.26, with 19 hundreds and 35 fifties. (Pujara has 19 hundreds and 34 fifties.)
Like Pujara, Azhar had his best days till 2017: at the end of that year, he averaged 46.62 (a few runs fewer than Pujara's average at that stage) and scored 14 hundreds, exactly as many as Pujara. Since 2018, his average fell away to 34.11 (Pujara's is 34.53), and he scored five hundreds, exactly as many as Pujara.
The surprise for Pujara is how badly his numbers at home have fallen away since the start of 2018. His away average has dipped only marginally - from 38.52 to 35.80 - but at home, the decline has been steep - from 62.97 to 31. Before 2018 he had scored 10 centuries from 55 innings at home, but since then, he has gone 20 innings without a century. A hundred in his 100th would be the perfect way to end that drought.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats