England vs India: Cheteshwar Pujara and the art of the Waiting Game
Character is tested when you are up against it - but that doesn't seem to be the problem for Pujara.
Updated - Sep 4, 2018 10:28 pm
Stuart Broad has had the better of KL Rahul for the major part of the series. This time, he has trapped Rahul leg-before, and the heat is on. A few seconds of deliberation and Kumar Dharmasena raises the finger. Broad is almost on his knees and the ‘sales pitch’ of sorts has worked and Joe Root is pleased.
Rahul has simply no hesitation as he raises his signals for the DRS almost immediately. ‘Umpires Call!’ exclaims Joel Wilson, ‘Kumar, you can stick with your decision. You are on screen now.’ And those are the dying embers of a disappointed KL Rahul who now begins sulking en route to the haven of the dressing room. Broad and Anderson alike have had his number this time around.
A figure emerges as Rahul is leaving. There is no need to sidestep or sprint of shuffle as he makes his way to the wicket. His business is all about getting to the wicket and batting it out. There is no need for flamboyance. Neither is there a need for any bells and whistles. If he wanted appreciation, he’d have joined the circus.
Test cricket and the batting custodian
Pujara is a batting revelation. For those who like Test cricket and the mind-games thrown at them, they will almost always fall head over heels for Pujara. He is far from flamboyant. And he doesn’t need it as well. He has a job to do, and he knows exactly what to do.
The first delivery from Stuart Broad is a full-length delivery. Kohli and also the recently-departed KL Rahul would have put bat to ball with every possibility of the ball reaching the fence. What does Pujara do? He simply leaves the ball and waits for Broad to huff and puff to reach him.
For many years, Cheteshwar Pujara has been the rock of the Indian batting unit in Tests. Other batsmen are free to express themselves, but Pujara has little or no choice but to be The Wall, of sorts. Of course, his form in recent times has not been the best, but the simple fact of him holding the innings right through is something spectacular.
The simplicity of batting and the reasons behind the same are the spices that ensure the easiness of going about things for him.
Broad takes a sip of the cold beverage and takes a quick snapshot of the uncharismatic Pujara from the corner of his eye. The first delivery and Pujara suppresses his desire to lean in and whack it through the covers. This continues for a while before he eventually gets off the mark with a punt down to long off.
The tiring game
Of course, this is significant in terms of him scoring, but Joe Root now has a problem. And it is indeed a profound one at that. The Branderson pair is tiring and there is no Chris Woakes. Yet, there is another difference. Unlike the previous Tests in England, it would seem as though Pujara finally has understood the importance of footwork and playing on the up.
Positive batting – the doldrums of which had, for a long time, been rung by the likes of Nasser Hussain and Sunil Gavaskar. And Pujara was reciprocating just that. In terms of patience and the waiting game, he is a Test cricketer to the fullest. In spite of the fact that he plays a heavy number of shots with the bottom-hand, the 30-year old is indeed en route to his mastery of being A Wall.
Fewer than a handful of players have managed on achieving this. Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid among the few. Both of these cricketers avoided the limelight and to good effect as well. Although Cheteshwar Pujara might not boast of the technique or the sublime temperament, he is still beautiful to watch.
What followed the third Test match was something special. Many have rightly called it a ‘Pujara innings’. It had everything he stood for. Poise, finesse, and the doldrums of Test match batting. Not the modern one, but the good old fashioned one. He uses the bottom hand. And to good effect. Does that make him a Modern Day batsman? Of course not!
Standing outside his crease, his agile footwork brings about a smile on Sanjay Bangar’s face in the haven of the dressing room. They have been working the better part of a few weeks on this. And it has indeed come to fruition.
At the other end, batsmen came and went. First, there was Shikhar Dhawan. And then Virat Kohli, the Indian skipper threatening to stick around for a while longer this time as it seemed. It came to a point in the evening when Jasprit Bumrah walked out to bat. There was an abundance of sunshine at Southampton with most of it shining on Pujara and Bumrah.
The final wicket partnership for the Indians brought them a plethora of positives. For starters, it proved that Bumrah could indeed hold onto a bat with the ball swinging off Anderson’s palm.
Cutting loose and the epilogue
Cheteshwar Pujara however, was in a different league. He began lofting Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali. He hadn’t played like that for as long as one could remember. It was a role he was beginning to enjoy. Of course, it isn’t every day that he bats with the tail. All of a sudden, there is a new role Pujara has been entrusted with.
He begins showing the erstwhile Bumrah how to wield the bat. As veteran commentator Harsha Bhogle pointed out – this was Bumrah’s ultimate Test. And, when England picked up the new ball, he began to show some semblance of finesse, especially against one of the best in the world – Jimmy Anderson.
As the innings came to a close, there was no smile or chuckle or anything. He simply strolled away from the ground, just as he had entered it. But this time, it was to a warm applause from the thousands scattered across the cast expanse of the Rose Bowl. He didn’t need it. Just like he didn’t need the tattoos and the pristine beards sported by the likes of KL Rahul and Virat Kohli. He simply needed his cricket bat and the rest of his gear. Nothing more.
They say that Character is usually tested when you are up against it. As far as Cheteshwar Pujara is concerned, he is in abundance of it.