India vs Australia: Cheteshwar Pujara strikes, at own sweet rate, in Ranchi

Cheteshwar Pujara’s epic 202 in the Ranchi Test came off 525 balls, the first time an Indian Test batsman had faced 500 deliveries in an innings

cricket Updated: Mar 21, 2017 22:09 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India vs Australia,Indian cricket team,Australian cricket team
Cheteshwar Pujara’s 202-run knock helped India snatch the initiative from Australia in the drawn Ranchi Test.(PTI)

As Cheteshwar Pujara turned anxiety in the Indian dressing room on the second day of the Ranchi Test into anticipation of victory by stumps on Day 4, some numbers were held up to give perspective to the innings that turned things around.

Pujara’s epic 202 came off 525 balls, the first time an Indian Test batsman had faced 500 deliveries in an innings. There was no six, and only 84 came in boundaries (21x4).

But the number Pujara was not asked about this time was his strike rate. After the match, Indian skipper Virat Kohli, was all praise, although Australia held on to ensure a draw.

“People don’t understand his importance so much in this team and what a valuable player he is for us. He is the most composed player we have; he is willing to grind for his runs, he doesn’t mind batting under pressure, he likes to take the challenge of batting.

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“So, someone like that is priceless to have in the team.”

What a change a season can make! Pujara’s double ton took his aggregate to 1,259 runs at 66.26 from 12 Tests in this interminable home season.

But Pujara had begun his ‘home run’ in a less than ideal mindset, after being told by the skipper to get a move on.

On the West Indies last summer, he was dropped after scores of 16 (67 balls) and 46 (159 balls) in the first two Tests and told to improve his strike rate.

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Coach Anil Kumble, asked about this strange ultimatum to a key player, declared strike rate had no relevance in Test cricket. Kohli had said after the first-Test win over New Zealand in Kanpur: “Pujara is someone who absorbs the pressure really well, but after a certain stage in the innings there comes a time when the team needs runs.”

But Kohli knew that Pujara’s knock had been invaluable, in Ranchi as well as Bangalore, where his 92 and century stand with Ajinkya Rahane put India on the victory path.

“When the pressure situation comes up, he (Pujara) is someone who will put his hand up and play long for the team and hold up one end, which I think is a great quality in him,” he said in Ranchi.

“He has not been spoken about much or has been in the focus too much but he deserves much more than that.”

The Rahul Dravid comparison

Rahul Dravid would feel the kindred spirit with the man who succeeded him as the pivotal No 3.

After all, Dravid had to silence doubters repeatedly. He was told early in his career (by former Aussie skipper Ian Chappell) that cricket was about scoring runs and taking wickets. That meant, number of balls faced, or time spent, was a mere appendage.

Traditionally, the No 3 batsman is the most accomplished, but doesn’t get excited when he has to open. Dravid, as skipper on the 2006 Pakistan tour, opened and hit back-to-back centuries, raising a 410-run stand with Virender Sehwag at Lahore.

Pujara, on the 2015 Sri Lanka tour, was out, after failures in England and Australia. He didn’t get to play in the first two Tests, and got in only as opener in the third after Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan were injured.

There was no sign of inner turmoil as Pujara weighed in with 145 not out on a grassy Sinhalese Sports Club ground pitch. His career shook again in the Caribbean, but Pujara has with vital contributions through this home season, showed substance over style can never go out of fashion.

For the record, Pujara’s strike rate in Ranchi was 38.47.

First Published: Mar 21, 2017 18:52 IST