India vs England: Cheteshwar Pujara has promises to keep at No. 3
Cheteshwar Pujara, despite averaging 62.42 at home, still does not inspire the same confidence as Virat Kohli due to his disappointing away record and that will be a point of concern ahead of the England Test seriesUpdated: Jul 28, 2018 10:15 IST
Test tours of England have almost always been unforgiving on Indian batsmen’s reputation. While Virat Kohli’s struggles in 2014 have been thoroughly dissected, Cheteshwar Pujara’s numbers are no less glaring.
The India No. 3 averages 22.20 in five Tests in 2014 and fared only better than Kohli among the top batsmen. In the succeeding four years, however, Kohli’s stature has grown to the extent of being hailed as one of the best batsman in the world.
On the other hand Pujara, despite averaging 62.42 at home, still does not inspire the same confidence. His average of 35.25 in 24 away Tests is a big reason for that. Though numbers may not fully justify Pujara’s impact on India’s overseas batting prowess, his performance for English County side Yorkshire this season has been far from awe-inspiring.
In six first-class matches for Yorkshire, he scored 172 at an average of 14.33. In the 12 innings he played, the 30-year-old was bowled or trapped in front of the wicket on eight occasions. He also fell to a moving ball in India’s three-day warm-up game against Essex.
Usually a tad shaky in the initial stages, Pujara starts middling the ball only after playing a number of deliveries. And that normally entails a period of leaving as many balls as possible. England are well aware of Pujara’s approach to every game. Pitching the ball up early to force a shot is one of the surest ways of catching Pujara on the wrong foot.
Like how Surrey seamer Sam Curran — picked in the England squad for the first Test — dismissed him in a first-class match in May. Still to open his account, Pujara was offered a full delivery that prompted him to go for a cover drive. He missed the pitch of the ball and it swung back to clatter into his stumps. That is an indication that Pujara might not be watching the ball as closely as he should be at the beginning.
With James Anderson and Stuart Broad manning the new-ball attack for England, Pujara’s solidity at No. 3 may well decide the course of India’s innings if the openers fail. He has shown dogged resolve to not get out on difficult surfaces, sometimes at the cost of a poor strike-rate.
He became the target of social media ridicule after taking 53 balls to open his account in the third Test in Johannesburg. But the value of Pujara’s ‘slow’ 179-ball half-century was only realised later when India notched a 63-run victory on a treacherous Wanderers track. Pujara’s slow starts could well be exploited again and it is for him to prove critics wrong by adapting to the situations. Unlike other Indian batsmen, Pujara is not short on practice in current English conditions but he needs to utilise it.
The current Indian team management is not averse to experimentation. Though Pujara’s superior technique may tilt the team selection in his favour, meagre returns may not go unpunished. The current Indian squad has enough depth and the management’s tendency to not play the same XI in successive matches can add to Pujara’s desperation. This being a five-Test series could well decide how Pujara will be handled in future.
First Published: Jul 28, 2018 10:14 IST