For, on Saturday, 12th January, you will be unable to write about Cheteshwar Pujara. After five days, India will play Australia in a one-day game. These five days are all you’ve got to toast the man behind India’s first ever series victory in Australia.
What will you write about?
Whatever it is, make it no less than 1258 words. That’s how many balls Pujara faced in the series. By the time he faced his 1258th ball of the series, on the second day of the Sydney Test, he was on 193, India 418, overs bowled 130, the Aussie bowling on its knees.
Had Pujara already won India the series? Was there anything left to play for, for India, for Australia? If rain had a mind, it didn’t think so.
Or had Pujara already won it in Adelaide? When Australia discovered they could eek out the openers early, but pricing out this guy at three was like climbing one of those Giant Sequoia trees.
What was the first shot that Pujara played in the series when he walked in at the fall of KL Rahul’s wicket in the third over. 3/1, beginning of the tour - What was it? Was it even a shot? Was it a poker-faced bat he offered? Did he leave the ball?
It was a dot ball. One of the many balls he would offer a deadpan bat to.
Pujara’s innings lasted 376 minutes, India’s 388 minutes. Pujara alone faced 41 overs, India 88 overs.
A ball before India’s innings closed, Pujara was run out trying to retain the strike. Before this though, he hurled India from 210/8 to 250/8 and himself from 89 to 123 in less than five overs – what, he even entertained the cynics with sixes off Starc and Hazlewood.
India beat Australia by 31 runs at Adelaide.
In the second innings, the openers did Pujara a disservice by making him wait 18.2 overs.
Yet, he was unfazed.
His first delivery was defended. It was a dot ball. One of many.
Pujara 70, fell in the 87th over. His innings lasted 204 minutes, India’s 465 minutes. Pujara alone faced 34 overs, India 106.5 overs.
As in the Adelaide first innings, at Perth too, Pujara walked out in the third over. India 6/1.
His first delivery was defended. It was a dot ball. One of many.
Pujara fell in the 39th over. His innings lasted 151 minutes, India’s 452 minutes. Pujara faced 17 overs, India 105.5 overs
In the second innings, Pujara walked out to bat in the first over. He walked back in the fourth over.
His first delivery was left alone. It was a dot ball. One of only nine dots.
As the gap between India and Pujara widened, so did that between Australia and India. India lost by 146 runs.
In Melbourne, India’s new opening pair gave Pujara 18.5 overs to work on his dancing moves. A record of some sort.
His first delivery was ducked under. It was a dot ball. One of many.
Pujara, 106, fell in the 126th over. He alone faced 53 overs, India 169 overs.
KL Rahul returned for Sydney and Pujara stepped out early again, in the second over.
By the time Pujara had faced his 1204th delivery of the series, he had gone past Rahul Dravid, for the most deliveries faced by an Indian batsman in Australia.
By the time he faced his 1258th ball in Sydney (the most by anyone in a four Test series in Australia), he was on 193, India 418, the Aussie bowling on its knees.
Pujara 193, fell in the 126th over. He alone faced 62 overs, India 167.2 overs.
It was over. Bar the shouting, posing, dancing, interviews.
— Mohandas Menon (@mohanstatsman) January 3, 2019
*** Cheteshwar Pujara was Player of the match and series. He was also a statistician’s delight. In more ways than one, he had outnumbered Australia. He did it by being true to himself and his batsmanship. For a batsman whose Test average has hovered either side of 50 for most of his career, to be brought under such constant scrutiny, says little about both the captain and coach that decide on the final playing eleven. This is as much Pujara’s victory against Australia as it is Pujara’s victory against those that doubted him. In the days that led to India’s series triumph, Virat Kohli said this of Pujara - “He has been a lot more flexible in altering his game very quickly. From the last time he played in Australia, he has made a few changes to his setup, and that’s working for him. He is embracing the fact that if something has been told to him and he has to work on those things, he has worked on it,” Begs the question, why is ‘something’ never told to Rohit, Rahul and Rahane? If so, why do they not work on those things? While this will be Virat Kohli’s victory, and to some extent even Ravi Shastri’s; it is a good time as any, to see how the captain remodelled his game, making it almost akin to that of Pujara’s. But nobody said - How Kohli ‘has been a lot more flexible in altering his game very quickly’. A strike rate comparison between the captain and his No. 3: In Adelaide: Pujara 50 and 34.8, Kohli 18.75 and 32.69 – India won (Pujara 100) In Perth: Pujara 23.3 and 36.36, Kohli 47.85 and 42.5 – Australia won (Kohli 100) In Melbourne: Pujara 33.22, Kohli 40.19 – India won – India won (Pujara 100) In Sydney: Pujara 51.74, Kohli 38.98 – Draw (Pujara 100) In 7 innings, Pujara scored 502 runs at 74.42, Kohli 282 at 40.28.
Kohli 177 runs (417 balls) Pujara 222 runs (564 balls) After 4 Tests, if Pujara scores > Kohli, India will win the series.#AusvInd #EarlyBoredCall — Gaurav Sethi (@BoredCricket) December 21, 2018
In between was Rishabh Pant, 350 runs at 58.33. The second highest batting average was Mayank Agarwal’s – 65 for his 195 runs.
While Pant is 9 Tests old, Agarwal has played just 2. One is barely 21, the other 27.
Much like Pujara, neither Pant nor Agarwal are ODI or T20I stars yet. They are all making an impact through Test cricket. It’s unlikely either player will be fast-tracked into the squad for the World Cup either.
Unlike Pujara however, both will turn up for their IPL teams before the World Cup.
As for Pujara, it’s something of a blessing for India, that he went unsold in the last IPL auctions. On return to India, he will be playing in the Ranji Trophy. In the summer, he’ll be off to play County cricket in England again.
This time however, no man in his right mind will drop him for a Test match based on county form.
While much is being made of Pujara’s two left feet, and the mock Pujara dance to celebrate the series win, it hardly does justice to the batsman’s dancing abilities.
The phrase, ‘dancing down the track to spinners’ was made for Che Pujara.
Not since VVS Laxman, has an Indian batsman played Australian spin with such skilful moves.
But that is cricket. Not post-match moves.
When he isn’t coming down the wicket to spin, he’s standing there, tall, self-assured, the protector of a different realm – one that could fall anytime.
But not on his watch. Is he the Last Test Batsman?
Only a few knew it. And even amongst those few, there were those who wanted to unknow it.
Pujara will get you home. It’s just that he will take the long way. And when you realise, for a series that started on December 6, and ended the following year on January 7; there’s only one way home – the long way, Pujara’s way.
If you’re up to it, you can sing along, and dance to it.
Just don’t expect Pujara to join in. He’s the reason you’re dancing. The reason you’re singing.
Be thankful. Scarcely ever before has a straight bat achieved so much for Indian cricket.
Try and not be too crooked with it.
(Gaurav Sethi branded Bored Cricket Crazy Indians (BCC!) to bring bloggers together. He also branded Che Pujara, Jatman and Thank You Sachin! – as a cartoon, before it became a farewell cry. He used to work on brands. Now he works on himself. He tweets at @BoredCricket)
Che PujaraCheteshwar PujaraFrom the press boxFrom The PressboxIndia vs Australia 2018pujara centuryvirat kohli
First Published: January 8, 2019, 1:03 PM IST