It has been just over a year since the legendary Rahul Dravid retired. At that point, one wondered how such a huge vacuum would be filled in India’s batting order, the number three position being such a pivotal spot, and Dravid being such a big name in world cricket. And while it is still too early to conclude that India have found a suitable replacement in Saurashtra lad Cheteshwar Pujara, it must be said that the recently-married youngster seems so perfectly suited for the job. His double century at Hyderabad was the most recent example of Pujara’s impending greatness in a short career.
That Pujara had all the attributes of being India’s long-term number three was a given even when he was playing domestic cricket. He has a near impeccable technique, can shift gears when needed, but most importantly, he loves batting on and on, for long durations. The question was whether he had the capability of replicating the same and translating these qualities into performances on the international stage. So far, Pujara has not given anyone a chance to complain. He has batted just like his predecessor, Dravid, used to do –with single-minded dedication to a cause, that of spending as much time at the crease as possible, and eking out maximum runs.
Even though his Test career is only 11 games old, Pujara has already made a major statement of intent. In these Tests, he has already notched up four Test centuries, two of them being double hundreds and coming again top sides like England and Australia. These figures prove how determined Pujara is for success. The 25-year-old has had to a wait long time for his much-deserved chance, first because Dravid was irreplaceable for India at the very same position that Pujara bats now, and second since he had bide his time owing to a serious injured he had picked up a few years back.
It is great to watch Pujara grabbing his opportunities with both hands and making such a brilliant start to his Test career. At the same time, one must not overburden him by anointing him as the successor to Dravid’s throne. The former Karnataka batsman was a once-in-a-generation player, and Pujara will have to chart his own course over time. Also, it must be remembered that Pujara has played most of his matches at home, where he has been incredibly consistent. He can be rated as a complete player only when scores with the same degree of consistently away from familiar conditions. Performing in varied conditions is the biggest challenge for any player in international cricket.
At first sight, Pujara has all the makings of being a complete player. But, his mental make-up will definitely be tested on the seaming and bouncing pitches in England and Australia respectively. India must be careful before making a full-fledged judgment on Pujara as of now. For the record, even domestic run machine Wasim Jaffer was expected to do well in Tests, but he could never quite make the transformation in alien conditions. Hopefully, the case would be different with Pujara.
--By A Cricket Analyst