Cheteshwar Pujara leaves the ball. (Getty)
Cheteshwar Pujara leaves the ball. (Getty)

India vs Australia: Cheteshwar Pujara and the virtues of slowness

  • India vs Australia: Strike rates are an integral part of cricket of course; in limited overs games, in T20s in particular, strike rate is king, but does it have a role in Test matches?
By Somshuvra Laha, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 14, 2021 07:48 AM IST

Of the several clichés to have gnawed their way into a layered sport like cricket, phrases like “playing result-oriented cricket” and “players expressing themselves” are pretty commonplace.

Add to that another one that has been cropping up with increasing frequency in India’s tour of Australia, particularly with reference to the batting of Cheteshwar Pujara - “batting strike rates”.

Also Read | If India win the series from here on, it will be a big, big victory: Akhtar

Now, strike rates are an integral part of cricket of course; in limited overs games, in T20s in particular, strike rate is king. It is what decides matches.

But does it really have a role to play in Test matches?

Unlike shorter formats that are limited by a quota of overs, Tests are defined by time and meant to accommodate the swinging fortunes orchestrated by the skills of 22 players, a slowly-changing pitch and varying weather elements over five days. To view it merely through the filters of wins and defeats, averages and strike rates can be misleading.

Also Read | It looks very tough for India with more than half team injured: Madan Lal

Monday’s drawn game - India’s fourth overseas draw in the last five years - at the Sydney Cricket Ground has to be one of the greatest examples in the history of the game of what Test cricket offers beyond statistical absolutes. A draw, as unbelievable it may sound at the end of what has been a defining decade for cricket, is a result too. Strike rates of 37.56 (Cheteshwar Pujara), 30.47 (Ravichandran Ashwin) and 14.29 (Hanuma Vihari) made it possible. There was no dearth of excitement. It was a necessary change of tactics once Rishabh Pant got out; Ravinder Jadeja, who had a dislocated thumb, had to be protected.

Cricket has rarely had such sightings in recent years, two gritty batsmen, each carrying their own injuries, stonewalling a fearsome and relentless bowling attack.

Still, the general idea is that a strike rate of above 50 is acceptable in Tests. Dip below 50, like Pujara (career strike rate of 45.45) and there is room for criticism.

It is though, difficult to doubt Pujara’s method. For proof, simply look at India’s overseas record in the past five years where Pujara (1620 runs in 24 Tests) is just behind leader Virat Kohli (1825 runs in 24 Tests) and ahead of Ajinkya Rahane (1572 runs in 24 Tests). Kohli has the best strike rate (53.5) but both Pujara (SR 38.21) and Rahane (SR 45.75) have played critical roles in building a score. And in Tests, scoring fast is hardly the point; scoring big is what matters.

A case in point is England opener Dom Sibley’s century (120) against West Indies in Manchester last July. Coming at the expense of 372 deliveries in 556 minutes, it was the second slowest century ever by an England batsman at home. But that says nothing about the impact it had on the match, which was this: it took England past 400 for the first time at home in three years; and England won the Test. Five days are more than enough to force a result despite “boring” strike rates and run rates.

This is similar to the effect Pujara has on the Indian team - despite the talk about his “slow” strike rate, the Indian team’s scoring rate as well as runs per wicket averages as a whole has improved over the last few years (see chart).

Pujara’s batting has been a key element in this improvement. For example, at the SCG, Pujara’s stability played a critical part in allowing Pant to go on the rampage. Pujara remains the bulwark who scored three centuries to help India become the first Asian side to win a series in Australia last tour. In fact, the team has plenty of players who have the ability to score hard and fast - Kohli, Pant, Rohit Sharma, and Jadeja - but only two who can be relied on to anchor the innings under any condition, Pujara and Rahane.

In fact, no one has faced more balls than Pujara in wins and draws in the last 10 years.

In fact, where India can improve more is an area where they are often dependent on Pujara’s long-playing abilities - posting big totals. Only 14 times out of 29 innings in 2016-21 have India crossed the 250-run mark in Australia, England and South Africa. In the preceding five years, that number was 22 (out of 38).

In that light, consider Pujara’s scores in India’s top five overseas totals in the last five years: 193, 106, 72, 0 & 77.

So why is Pujara being singled out? Former players like Ricky Ponting feel Pujara should have been proactive in the first innings at SCG for example.

“He's 16 off his first 100 balls with no boundaries. That is…and I don't care who you are…if you're at the other end and someone is batting like that, so much more pressure comes back on you,” cricket.com.au had quoted Ponting as saying.

In other words, even when there seems to be the opportunity and the motive for scoring faster, Pujara does not “shift gears”.

There is no doubt that Pujara is one of the slowest to get off the blocks in Test cricket right now. But he knows how to make it count. If his attacking percentage against pacers drops to single digits, he makes up for it by coming down the track to spinners. It’s a waiting game essential for Tests - it results in a great conversion rate for him (18 centuries, 27 fifties). Since 2006, Pujara also holds the record for most runs scored by an Indian in a Test session in Australia - 77 in Adelaide during the last tour.

Strike rates seem irrelevant when you trust the results the likes of Pujara offer, not how they get to it.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
Ajinkya Rahane bats(Getty Images)
Ajinkya Rahane bats(Getty Images)

Ajinkya Rahane chooses between his Melbourne and Lord's hundreds

PTI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 11:01 PM IST
After his 112 in the Boxing Day Test, Ajinkya Rahane had said his century at Lord's was his best. However, the 32-year-old said he didn't quite realise the value of his Melbourne effort that eventually became a building block for India's 2-1 series win against Australia.
Close
File photo of former Sri Lankan captain and current MCC president Kumara Sangakkara(Twitter)
File photo of former Sri Lankan captain and current MCC president Kumara Sangakkara(Twitter)

Rajasthan Royals appoint Sangakkara as director of cricket

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 05:47 PM IST
One of the greats of the modern game, Sangakarra scored over 28,000 runs for Sri Lanka over a hugely successful 16-year career and has the highest Test batting average of any player in the last 46 years.
Close
India's Washington Sundar avoids a bouncer during play on the final day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, (AP)
India's Washington Sundar avoids a bouncer during play on the final day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, (AP)

Shastri tells us inspiring stories, would love to open in Tests like him: Sundar

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 04:30 PM IST
Washington Sundar scored 62 and a quick 22, including a hooked six off Pat Cummins, to play a part in the finishing act, apart from a match-haul of four wickets. The young man said he aspires to open the batting for India like head coach Ravi Shastri.
Close
Rahul Dravid(AFP)
Rahul Dravid(AFP)

Rahul Dravid gives a classic response to constant praise for grooming youngsters

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 10:27 PM IST
Keeping true to his modest nature, Rahul Dravid refused to take any credit for the success of India’s young and inexperienced cricketers in Australia.
Close
Indian left-arm pacer T Natarajan gestures during a grand welcome ceremony, organised by his villagers, at Chinnappampatti in Salem district, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Natrajan was part of the Indian cricket team which defeated Australia in the recent test series by 2-1.(PTI)
Indian left-arm pacer T Natarajan gestures during a grand welcome ceremony, organised by his villagers, at Chinnappampatti in Salem district, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Natrajan was part of the Indian cricket team which defeated Australia in the recent test series by 2-1.(PTI)

'Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane handled me well': T Natarajan

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 07:48 PM IST
T Natarajan also said he enjoyed playing under the captaincy of Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, adding they both supported and encouraged him a lot.
Close
File image of Kevin Pietersen.(Getty Images)
File image of Kevin Pietersen.(Getty Images)

'It's disrespectful to Indian team if England do not play best XI': Pietersen

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 07:22 PM IST
It will be disrespectful to Indian team if England doesn't play its best XI, says Pietersen
Close
Joe Root(Twitter)
Joe Root(Twitter)

Root masterclass sees England frustrate Sri Lanka in second Test

Reuters
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 06:56 PM IST
England still trail by 42 runs and will seek to wipe out the deficit with Jack Leach and James Anderson at the crease on the fourth morning, although Sri Lanka spinner Lasith Embuldeniya has been excellent with career-best figures of 7-132.
Close
Players of Pakistan Cricket Team attend a practice session for an upcoming test match against South Africa at National Stadium, in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.(AP)
Players of Pakistan Cricket Team attend a practice session for an upcoming test match against South Africa at National Stadium, in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.(AP)

Pakistan retain 6 rookies in squad of 17 for 1st test vs SA

AP, Islamabad
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 05:53 PM IST
The selectors had initially announced 20 players for the two-test series but trimmed the squad to 17 for the first test at the National Stadium on Sunday.
Close
England's Joe Root in action.(REUTERS)
England's Joe Root in action.(REUTERS)

Root surpasses Pietersen, becomes England's 5th highest Test run-scorer

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 05:43 PM IST
While doing so, Root also surpassed former batsman Kevin Pietersen to become the fifth highest-run getter for England in the longest format.
Close
Jake Weatherald was run out twice in one ball.(Screenshot/BBL)
Jake Weatherald was run out twice in one ball.(Screenshot/BBL)

BBL: 'A first for sure': Strikers' batsman gets run out twice in 1 ball - WATCH

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 03:35 PM IST
The replays showed that Weatherald was outside the crease on both occasions and with the first run-out being counted, he had to go back for 31.
Close
England captain Joe Root raises his bat after scoring 100 runs.(PTI)
England captain Joe Root raises his bat after scoring 100 runs.(PTI)

England vs Sri Lanka: Root notches 19th test century in Galle

AP, Galle
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 02:53 PM IST
England reached 181 for four at lunch on day three to trail Sri Lanka by 200 runs in the first innings.
Close
Australia's Glenn Maxwell during the one day international cricket match between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia.(AP)
Australia's Glenn Maxwell during the one day international cricket match between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia.(AP)

'I stand nowhere near it': Glenn Maxwell on Test return

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 02:56 PM IST
In the chances that he has got, Maxwell has not been able to replicate his limited-overs exploits in Test cricket, playing the last of his seven Tests in Bangladesh in 2017.
Close
India's paceman Mohammed Siraj (C) gives a hug to teammate Rishabh Pant to cleberate victory at the end of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba in Brisbane.(AFP)
India's paceman Mohammed Siraj (C) gives a hug to teammate Rishabh Pant to cleberate victory at the end of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba in Brisbane.(AFP)

Six Indian cricketers gifted THAR-SUV by Anand Mahindra

ANI
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 02:28 PM IST
On Tuesday, Australia's fortress -- The Gabba -- was finally breached. It took 32 years and two months, but the unthinkable was achieved as an injury-ravaged young Indian team beat Australia by three wickets against all odds in the final Test to take the series 2-1.
Close
Indian players pose with the winning trophy after defeating Australia.(PTI)
Indian players pose with the winning trophy after defeating Australia.(PTI)

Greg Chappell explains why he's 'not surprised' with Team India's win Down Under

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 02:24 PM IST
Writing in a column for Sydney Morning Herald, Chappell said that he was surprised with the massive media attention over India's win.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP