About six years ago, when Anil Kumble was India’s head coach, he was asked at a press conference about Cheteshwar Pujara’s scoring rate. The big leg spinner’s response was terse but meaningful: “For me, the hit rate is destined for the bowlers.”
Pujara has always been an outlier in an alpha male-dominated cricket world. He’s old school, wears down the bowlers and hitting isn’t his forte. This is how he survived at the highest level, playing 96 tests and scoring almost 7,000 runs, including 18 hundred.
But the Edgbaston test was different. He was playing for his career and didn’t have the license to fail. In the last over of the third day, when he hit his half-century by taking a singles off Joe Root, former England off-spinner Graeme Swann, now a host broadcaster pundit, described it as a “superb innings”.
A half-century patient from Cheteshwar Pujara 👏#WTC23 | #ENGvIND | https://t.co/wMZK8kesdD pic.twitter.com/me80dNan6h
— ICC (@ICC) July 3, 2022
Amid the fracas of England’s Bazball and a sparkling rishabh pant century in the first innings, Pujara stayed true to his game. Apart from a few awkward moments in the beginning, allowed on a course with a steep jump and conditions that supported Nip, he was like a wall. James Anderson and company tried everything, but there was the Indian Wall that repelled them. Pujara’s 50 not from 139 balls had a batting average of 35.97. It blunted the hosts’ comeback attempt. In the three Test series against New Zealand that preceded the current game at Edgbaston, England had chased around 300 goals in the fourth innings for fun. From an Indian perspective, slamming the door on them was imperative. Pujara did it because of his technique and character. No wonder, then, that coach Rahul Dravid’s applause was overdone as Pujara reached his half-century.
Pujara was dropped for the home Test series against Sri Lanka earlier this year. Unlike Ajinkya Rahane, who chose the IPL, he went quietly to Sussex, scoring 720 runs in eight innings, including four hundred, and forcing his way back to the Test team. When Rohit Sharma signed Covid and missed the game, Pujara was asked to open the innings. Forever a team man, he agreed, knowing this test could be his last. After coming out cheap in the first innings, the pressure mounted. As things stand, Pujara will be part of the two friendly series against Bangladesh early next year if he stays fit. He’s approaching the 100 test club.
A calm, composed and brave Fifty, just like that #Pujara loves 😌
Can he go big and bet #TeamIndia in the driver’s seat? 🤝🏽
Tune in to Sony Six (ENG), Sony Ten 3 (HIN) & Sony Ten 4 (TAM/TEL) – (https://t.co/tsfQJW6cGi)#ENGvINDLIVE on SonySportsNetwork #ENGvIND pic.twitter.com/jd83OfOYEF
— Sony Sports Network (@SonySportsNetwk) July 3, 2022
After the New Zealand series, England head coach Brendon McCullum was asked if the days of stubborn Test batsmen were over. “I haven’t given that much thought to that. I just look at the players we have and I think they fit what we want to achieve and the style we want to play. It’s probably not what we’re looking for. Anyway, I’m happy with what we have at the moment,” McCullum had said.
Pujara provided the answer in a day when Kevin Pietersen called Ben Stokes in the Sky Sports commentary about “devaluing his Test wicket”. Bazball might be the latest fad, but the golden rule of Test batting, especially for a top-flight batsman, remains unchanged. Except that a player has to be technically good enough to play the waiting game.