Cheteshwar Pujara is arguably India's hottest Test property after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. And the Indian board has repeatedly given pointers that they want to protect the Saurashtra man from the rigors of limited-overs cricket. But after consecutive series defeats in South Africa and New Zealand and the coming World Cup in Australia, the BCCI selectors decided to once again open the ODI doors for Pujara.
After playing his last ODI in August 2013 on the tour of Zimbabwe, Pujara will be travelling to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup beginning February 25. Though Indian batting will be back in friendly territory in the subcontinent, the think-tank will be looking to give Pujara enough opportunities to oil himself for the ODI leg of the tours of England and Australia and then the World Cup.
Pujara can provide Indian batting the stability, especially out of the subcontinent, which MS Dhoni struggled to find in South Africa and New Zealand where India lost the ODI series 2-0 and 4-0 respectively.
Pujara is in the same mold as Rahul Dravid and South Africa's Hashim Amla - both of whom have been successful ODI batsmen other than being pillars for their respective teams in Test cricket.
Dravid's watertight defence and copybook style wasn't a hindrance for him in ODIs; in fact, he has more than 10,000 runs in the format. And in his short but prolific Test career, Pujara has shown the promise of becoming a good ODI player as well, if not in T20s.
Dravid went on to play 344 ODIs, finishing as one of India's most successful ODI player with 10,889 runs. And if the BCCI considers Pujara a like-for-like replacement for Dravid, then he should do as well.
Amla is one of the few modern-day batsmen in the bat-and-pad-together mould. But that hasn't stopped him from breaking Viv Richards' record of fastest to 4000 ODI runs. In 85 ODIs, Amla has amassed 4054 runs with 12 hundreds and 23 fifties at an average of 53.34 and a staggering strike rate of over 90.
Pujara has always expressed his keenness to establish himself as an ODI player as well. "I think I have the basics, now it's just about shifting the gears at the right time, and that comes with more matches at the international level," he had said after being picked for the limited-overs tour of Zimbabwe in 2013.
Pujara has a List A average of 54.57 with 9 hundreds and 18 fifties in 68 games. So the credentials are there to press claim for a regular place in the ODI squad as well. And seeing how Indian batting failed in seaming and swinging conditions in SA and NZ, the team needs to groom him as its middle-order stabilizer for the World Cup.
Pujara's ODI statistics: 2 matches, 13 runs, average 6.50
Pujara's Test statistics: 19 matches, 1650 runs, average 58.92, 6 hundreds, 4 fifties