When the year 2014 kicked off, Cheteshwar Pujara was among the many young Indian batsmen cricket lovers were looking forward to, expecting him to do exceptionally well. After all, he had made a splendid start to his Test career. However, most of his early knocks came at home, and it was in the away terrain that he had remained untested. Of course, he had featured in a Test in South Africa back in 2010, but he was way too young back then to be judged. 2014 was going to be his real test. Unfortunately, it must be said that he has been a big disappointment. He has only one innings to go in the year, and in spite of what he has achieves in it, the year will be a forgettable one for him.
The journey away from home began on a promising note for India's number three, anointed as the automatic replacement for Rahul Dravid. Pujara made a magnificent 153 in the Johannesburg Test, which India almost ended up winning, and then almost ended up losing. The way he batted at Johannesburg, it seemed like Pujara had carried his form away from home as well. But, as statistics would show, he hasn't hit a Test hundred since that knock, which came a year ago. Pujara got starts at Durban but, could not convert them. The Test actually kicked off a chain for him, as he kept getting out after getting starts.
Any player on his first tour of New Zealand is expected to struggle against the moving ball, unless you are a Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar. Same was the case with Pujara. Still, considering his technique and reputation of scoring big, the numbers of runs Pujara scored in New Zealand was a big disappointment by his standards. Despite the reverses, India still pinned a lot of hopes on him as he travelled to England. The lack of runs in New Zealand were seen as a rare bad phase in his otherwise distinguished career. But, the England tour really picked out some gaping holes in Pujara's batsmanship. One fifty was all he managed at the end of 10 innings. And, by the end of the tour, Pujara was very much a walking wicket for England, in spite of having the technique to deal with the conditions.
To his credit, Pujara stayed back in England to play county cricket and gain some precious experience under tough conditions. It was a clear sign that Pujara was keen to learn, and commited to the cause of improving his game. Hopefully, that would help him perform better when he heads to England again. But, in Australia, he is revisiting his demons as far as batting is concerned. Like in England, he began with a confident half-century in the first match, but his performance has progressively declined since. He has only one innings left now, and would be keen to end a disappointing year on a high.
Whatever he does in the second innings at Melbourne, it is a fact that Pujara has a lot to think about his batting in the New Year. He has the technique no doubt, but following his long list of recent failures, his temperament will be questioned. Pujara needs to get back into the groove, which enabled him in scoring big runs. These are still early days in his career, but over the last 12 months, Pujara has featured in 12 Tests away from home. During this period, Ajinkya Rahane has scored three tons. Although Virat Kohli was equally poor in England, he has scored hundreds in Australia and South Africa. Pujara has only one. He certainly needs to do more.
--By A Cricket Analyst