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At one point in the First Test between Australia and India at Adelaide, Cheteshwar Pujara was stuck on 11 off 73 balls and hadn’t scored a run off 30 balls during his partnership with Rohit Sharma in the first innings.

Commentators on air and cricket fans online were increasingly of the view that Pujara’s ultra slow approach would put immense pressure on the team which was already reeling at 65-4.

The debate raged on about Pujara as wickets kept tumbling for India and they slipped to 127-6.

Pujara, meanwhile, batted brilliantly with the tail and went on to produce a magnificent 123 off 246 balls that eventually took India to a respectable 250. While the Indian bowlers bowled excellently to win the Test for India, there was no question that it was Pujara’s priceless 123 in the first innings and composed 71 in the second that put India in a position of victory.

Once again, like so many times in his career, Pujara had battled perceptions against him and only did what he knows best – to bat with fortitude and bail his team out of trouble.

Unfortunately, however, even after 65 Tests, 16 hundreds and 5099 runs, Cheteshwar Pujara continues to remain in the shadows of more fancied batsmen in the team and struggles with the notion that he hasn’t really been able to become the match-winner for his team, especially overseas.

Many of the criticisms continuously flung at Pujara are really contrived and some are genuine. But one hopes that after his match-changing hundred at Adelaide he would move on to the next level – both in terms of battling perceptions against him and doing his best despite being in the shadows of the more gloried men in his team.

Pujara and Dravid – how the two batsmen compare to each other

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One of the most consistent criticisms against Pujara has been his inability to force the pace and make match-winning contributions in overseas Tests – especially in places like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and England. That might be partly true. But is he really that bad?

Rahul Dravid, with whom Pujara is so often compared, has time and again been seen as India’s most productive batsman overseas. If one looks at his numbers vis-à-vis Pujara at the point of 65 Tests in his career, the same name number that Pujara has played till now, we will get some interesting results. After 65 Tests, Dravid had amassed 5435 runs in 110 innings at an average of 55.45 with 14 hundreds and 24 fifties. Pujara, at this point in his career, has played 109 innings with 5099 runs at an average of 50.48 and with 16 hundreds and 20 fifties.

Another interesting point to note is at that stage Dravid had played 3 Tests in Australia with 93 runs at an average of 15.50 and 5 Tests in South Africa at an average of 42.11. Pujara averages 49.37 in Australia after 4 Tests and 31.11 in South Africa after 7 Tests.

The most damning stat, however, is that Dravid’s strike-rate – 40.71 – after 65 Tests pales in comparison to Pujara’s 46.89. Sure, times have changed and cricket has evolved. But it is the perception that goes against Pujara more than real numbers.

So, yes, Pujara does need to be consistent in overseas Tests, like all batsmen do. But one often forgets that some of his top knocks have come overseas – the glorious 153 against South Africa at the Wanderers in 2013, the 132 not out in England in Southampton earlier this year, the 145* against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 2015, apart from his match-winning performance in the Adelaide Test to name a few. Moreover, to constantly criticize and mock a batsman who averages 38.40 away from home with 6 hundreds and 6 fifties is a bit too harsh. Especially considering that India’s best batsman Virat Kohli, averages 46.61 away from home.

Pujara – living in the shadows uncomplainingly

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India has won three overseas Tests this year – in Johannesburg, Nottingham, and Adelaide. In all of these three Tests, there have been vital contributions by Cheteshwar Pujara. He scored a defiant 50 in the first innings of the Johannesburg Test against South Africa, a brilliant 72 in the second innings of the Nottingham Test against England and a terrific 123 and 71 in the Adelaide Test against South Africa.

He is India’s second-highest Test scorer of the year after Kohli with 703 runs in 12 Tests. But not many know that or care for it. Because, one can safely assume that another couple of failures in the next two Tests or an innings where he is dismissed for 20 off 80 balls, and his critics and social media experts will a have field day again.

But will that necessarily trouble Pujara? One thinks not. He has been dropped from the side and asked to “show more intent” by the team management. He has slogged hard for the team and will have to continue to do the same, irrespective of the lack of plaudits by fans and experts alike. Because much like Dravid, Pujara isn’t one to seek approval; he thrives by living in the shadows and going about his job quietly. And much like Dravid, over time he should advance his game from here. Just look at where Dravid ended from Test no. 65 to his eventual 164.

Can Pujara do better? Surely he can. Ever since his poor 2014 overseas season where he managed 437 runs in 9 Tests at 24.27, he has consciously attempted to make little tweaks in his technique and has succeeded. After the end of the Test series in South Africa earlier this year, his away average was 35.25. And at the end of the first Test against Australia, it has now increased to 38.40. And Pujara will need to improve on that further to truly stake his claim as India’s dependable No.3 Test batsman in all conditions.

But there is no denying that Pujara is constantly improving and has been an impact player for India. He trusts his defense, which might not be impregnable, but does his job. He is always looking to put his head down and get ready for a marathon battle at the wicket. He is an invaluable asset in times where looking to be aggressive is more important than doing what’s important.

So while experts would continue to poke him for his inability to move the pace and overzealous fans would continue to draw comparisons with him and Rahul Dravid, Pujara would do what he knows best – stay at the wicket, leave those balls swinging away from him and score runs when his team needs him the most.

He is no Rahul Dravid 2.0.

He doesn’t need to be.

It’s because he is Cheteshwar Pujara; plain and simple. He doesn’t have that glamour of the modern cricketer. He won’t ever have millions of followers swooning over him. But Pujara is charting his own path and persona. And maybe that’s what matters the most.


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