Kolkata: Cheteshwar Pujara is on a dream run. Runs don’t elude him (including the ton at Vishakapatnam) of late. Pujara has also cemented his place at Number 3. Rock solid defence and shots all around the wicket, he has arrived. Pujara plays the perfect sheet anchor’s role for Virat Kohli’s Team India.
Looking back, it’s not been a cakewalk for Pujara in his early days with the Indian team. Pujara was drafted into the team for the Bengaluru Test against Australia in 2010. He didn’t have an extra-ordinary start to his Test career scoring 4 and 72. With Rahul Dravid still around, it was tough for him to take the Number 3 slot. And to aggravate the crisis, an injury ruled him out of contention, before Dravid’s retirement earned him his place back against New Zealand in 2012.
Many cricket pundits were keen on putting their money on Pujara. A legacy left behind by The Wall was tough to inherit, yet, Pujara was the man. Dravid had been a pivot for Indian batting in Tests for close to two decades. The team in crisis, and he was the man to bail it out. Pujara too has played the same role for Kohli, if his career is analysed. With an average of 51.08 in 40 matches, Pujara has justified his captain’s faith in him.
But hold on! Is it still the right time to hail Pujara as the New Wall of Indian cricket? To sound objective, the answer would be in the negative. Pujara is a class act. He has an impeccable technique and a sound temperament that stand him apart. But isn’t he a batsman who is more comfortable playing on benign tracks in India?
Former Indian skipper, Sourav Ganguly underscores the importance of success abroad. It doesn’t really count how many runs you score at home. It’s the achievements abroad that draw the line between the good and the great. Inclement conditions in England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa test your skills. If we look at statistics, then Pujara still has a long way to go to be the next Dravid.
Out of the 40 Test matches that Pujara has played so far, he averages 68.22 in 22 appearances at home with 8 hundreds. On the contrary he has a paltry average of 33.36 in 18 Tests abroad with just 2 centuries and 3 half-centuries. Compare this to Dravid’s at this stage (40 Tests). In 16 away Tests, Dravid had already scored 4 hundreds. In 24 matches at home, Dravid had an equal number of tons to his credit.
Statistics say it all. And talk of the impact Dravid made during this period and subsequently, especially abroad, it would be tough to emulate. If we look at Dravid’s overall Test career, the records are set straight. Dravid’s average (53.03) in 94 Tests abroad is better than his home’s (51.35 in 70 Tests). Before calling it a day, he ended up with 21 hundreds as a tourist and 15 as a host. Need we say more?
It’s not just records, but as mentioned earlier, the impact one makes. By this time (40 Tests), Dravid had already become the mainstay under tough conditions. Be it home or away, he was the most dependable batsman even in the presence of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Pujara on the other hand, has been found wanting on bouncy wickets in South Africa and Australia, and in seaming conditions in England.
Yes, he did get a hundred at Johannesburg, but it was followed by just one more at Colombo (abroad). Starting from November, 2013, Pujara managed scores of 25, 153, 70, 32, 1, 23, 19, 17, 38, 55, 28, 43, 24, 2, 0, 17, 4, 11, 73, 21, 18, 43, 25, 21, 145 Not Out, 0, 16 and 46 in South Africa, England, Australia, Sri Lanka and West Indies.
On the other hand, Dravid has played so many memorable knocks for India. The innings at Adelaide, Headingly, Rawalpindi, Kingston and Nottingham exemplify true class. Let’s also not forget the historic Eden Gardens triumph against Steve Waugh’s Aussies.
Dravid’s partnership with Laxman turned the tide in India’s favour. It may have come on home soil, but India was staring at one more defeat before Laxman and Dravid joined in the middle. Even if one puts Tendulkar on a different pedestal, Dravid should go down the history as India’s biggest match-winner with the bat in the Five-day format.
Coming back to Pujara, after the tour to West Indies, he has been in sublime form on Indian tracks. But when you look at his away feats, Pujara has to pull up his socks, if he has to make his way into the Club of Great Batsmen. Indian legends like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag have unparalleled records under tough conditions abroad. Pujara should take a leaf out of his skipper’s book as well. Kohli has a solid average of 44.61 with 9 hundreds in 28 Tests abroad.
Yes, Pujara has shown maturity. But some big scores on foreign soil would make Kohli heave a sigh of relief. That will make Pujara a man for all seasons. It’s time to congratulate Pujara, but not the time to rejoice and get carried away. Tendulkar has retired, but there’s a Virat Kohli at Number 4. To many experts, Kohli can go on to surpass his idol. And his consistency endorses it. But for Pujara to be in the same bracket as Dravid’s, one would reserve his comments as of now.
Pujara has it in him to brave all odds. It’s time for him to use his acumen to come up trumps when the odds are not in his favour. After his century at Vizag, Pujara thanked Team India’s coach Anil Kumble for “changing his intent.” Hopefully, with Kumble around who has shared the dressing room with Dravid, Pujara wouldn’t be short of advice.