Sunday 31 March 2013

Pujara's wait

It was the pause. The ball had passed; it was already behind his head. He still waited. Eventually he just dabbed, deflecting its flight path well over Matthew Wade and away to the boundary. He was Cheteshwar Pujara orchestrating India's final run-chase of a triumphant series.

He must have played many more significant and less eye-catching strokes through the series but that upper-glance off Mitchell Johnson betrayed a batsman in complete, devastating control.

Pujara is emerging out of the haze surrounding Sachin Tendulkar's future as one of names that will loom over the next decade. Growing up through the 1990s, Lara, Tendulkar and Steve Waugh were the triumvirate that towered over the cricketing landscape. A benchmark that others (Dravid, Kallis, Ponting later) were checked off against. The batsmen whose dismissal opposition fans would celebrate desperately, but whose runs they would later cherish the most.

Over the next 10 years Pujara looks likely to join that rank. Already his numbers are frightening. After 13 Tests, Tendulkar had 666 runs and Lara 1108. Pujara has 1180. But it is the things the statistics don't reveal that is so magnetic.

The elevated calm, classical execution and understated charisma. The fact that ever since his debut, when his 89-ball 72 top-scored in a successful runchase against Ricky Ponting's Australia, he has flourished under Test-match pressure.

Set alongside his nationality and batting position, the Dravid comparison is obvious. But Pujara is very much a man of his time. His mentality and technique forming in an era where Twenty20 dominates means he has greater resources than Dravid to draw from.

Pujara's two (already!?) Test double-hundreds both began cautiously before shifting stealthily through the gears as opposition bowlers fatigued. When he feels the moment appropriate, he has all the shots of a short-form specialist. In fourth innings chases, with matches to be seized, he averages 93.00.

As a product of post-Ganguly India there is no trace of deference in the way Pujara carries himself. After his methodical dismembering of England in Ahmedabad he crowed: “The way they were batting it looked like they were a fragile batting line-up for sure. It's going to be a challenging task for them”. He has Kohli's aggression with (almost) Sangakkara's elan.

An enormous tasks awaits him in South Africa. They possess the world's most incisive pace attack and have the pitches to match. In three innings there – his only Tests outside of India - he did not pass 19. But there is nothing in Pujara's makeup to suggest he'll struggle.

He is neither front nor backfoot dominant and doesn't rely on a freakish eye in the way Virender Sehwag did. At no point has he appeared overawed with the duty of carrying India's top-order into the next generation. It suggests a temperament cool enough to ride out the dotball storms Philander and co will create.

There is something especially thrilling about watching youthful talent in its first throes. Kids coming to the game now will scrawl Pujara's name on their notebooks for years to come, fantasise about bowling to him, and try, over and again, to copy that pause before unfurling their strokes.


awbraae said...

It was nice to see Pujara make the step up. His performances for India A showed he had a hell of a lot of potential, and so far his test record confirms it.

Ashesinsomniac said...

Very much so. Really looking forward to watching him over the coming years. Be fascinating to see how he goes in SA