There is reason to believe that the cricketing gods have been unfair to Cheteshwar Pujara. Although considered one of finest among the younger generation of batsmen, he has seldom played a part in Indian cricket's biggest adventure - the T20 league.
In six seasons, Pujara has played only 23 matches, a miniscule number for a player of his ability. Quite often, he has either been injured or fallen victim to the unfair tag of being fit only for Tests.
In the 2009 edition hosted by South Africa, he injured his left knee during a warm-up game before the event and was forced out of action for six months. In 2011, after playing three innings, the dodgy knee of his acted up after he injured it while fielding on the boundary. He played no further part that season.
His fortune did not improve last year either as he played just three matches. This season too, he only recently recovered from a finger injury suffered in the final Test against Australia in Delhi. He has played three matches so far.
There is irony in his situation. When most of his contemporaries miss out on playing for India but recover in time for the league, Pujara's story has been the other way around.
Unlike the 25-year-old's rare league appearances, Suresh Raina has played the most number of matches — 95. Even Manish Pandey, who was banned for four matches for negotiating higher salary with other franchises two seasons back and has no international matches under his kitty, has played in 46 games — double that of Pujara.
Though missing the league games would have frustrated him, Pujara will be the first to admit he is not too unhappy with the situation.
In the last three seasons, he has emerged as the ideal candidate to step up to the Number 3 spot vacated by Rahul Dravid. And there are many aspects Pujara and Dravid have in common.
Like his predecessor, Pujara too has been branded as a batsman suited only for Tests despite possessing one of the impeccable techniques in world cricket. Dravid went on to prove critics wrong in the one-day format and even at 40, is still going strong in the T20 league. Pujara would like to take a cue from the great man.
“I have been following Dravid since my childhood and he is one of the batsmen I look up to. So, the way he is batting at the moment - and even in the past — it is always inspiring,” says Pujara.In his return against Kings XI Punjab last week, he made a 48-ball 51. And as Royal Challengers Bangalore host them at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium this time, Pujara will again be the key man.