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New challenges will help Pujara evolve

What's tougher to deal with? The debut match against one of the best teams in the world in front of a packed house, or the knowledge that regardless of your showing in the game, you'd get only one chance, at least for the time being.

cricket Updated: Oct 17, 2010 23:05 IST
Aakash chopra

What's tougher to deal with? The debut match against one of the best teams in the world in front of a packed house, or the knowledge that regardless of your showing in the game, you'd get only one chance, at least for the time being.

Just to add to the pressure, you get a ball which keeps alarmingly low in the first innings and constantly reminds you of a letdown. You stand at the edge of the cliff, one wrong move, and it might blow up all your dreams.

That's how Cheteshwar Pujara must have felt when he took guard as India's No.3 batsman on the last day of the second Test. If there ever was what we call a 'pressure cooker situation', this was certainly one of those.

Surely then, the way you embark upon such a situation would inevitably determine the shape your career takes. These situations separate men from the boys, and the way Pujara responded showed that he belonged to the place.

His feet movement was decisive, his shot selection assured and, above all, the composure with which he played must have calmed a few nerves in the dressing room.

I have seen Pujara grow as a player from close quarters. He's a batsman in the traditional mould who prefers grinding down the opposition with solid technique and immense patience. His consistent performances were rewarded with further selections till he faced the corporate world of the IPL. He was picked for the Kolkata Knight Riders but was sent home, without getting a chance, halfway through the first season. That was when he realized the need to change, quite radically, with the times. No longer was it only about notching up the runs but about being flamboyant and flashy too.

If you try to score quickly in the longer format, there's a possibility of sacrificing big runs and if that happens, you're doomed. You may impress a franchise or two with your strike rate but its only big runs which impress the selectors. But to his credit, Pujara took it as a challenge and learned to switch gears. His strike rate improved appreciably while he continued to score in tons.

His List A stats were equally impressive as his first-class', which led to him being made the skipper of the India A team touring England. He not only led the team with success in the shorter format but also returned as the highest run scorer.

While he's made a good start to his international career, he is most likely to be reduced to being a tourist for some time. Despite his success in the shorter format, he's unlikely to be picked for ODIs which means he will have no international exposure till someone else in the Test playing XI pulls a muscle.

That's not encouraging. If Pujara is good enough to lead India's second-best team and also scores more runs than everyone else, then why can't he be considered for the shorter format?

I'm not saying that he walks into the full-strength ODI team, but he should be given the right of admission into the one which is facing the Aussies, which is giving a miss to the front-runners. For a player to keep evolving it's mandatory to throw constant challenges at him and that can only happen if you feature in the playing XI.

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