The Saurashtra stalwart’s game is built on patience, though his ability to grind is also based on an inability to see more balls as risk-free. Maybe that is why he doesn’t have an IPL contract?
Even Hashim Amla – a player in the Pujara mode – wasn’t a successful T20 player. But he had a lazy elegance and an ability to open the batting, so he went on to play 181 ODIs and score 8,000-plus runs averaging almost 50. Pujara has only five ODIs to his credit.
In low-scoring Test matches (total of less than 250), Pujara has hardly ever played a lone hand with a hundred. In high-scoring games (400-plus) too, he requires others to bat around him or needs his partners to score faster, so that Indian bowlers get enough time to bowl out the opposition twice. When he scores a double hundred, one of his teammates or the opposing batsman almost always scores a faster ton.
Of course, each batsman has his own assets and shortcomings and Pujara’s value to the team cannot be denied. And a team is made up of a variety of players.
The same applied to Rahul Dravid, whose contributions became more vital when Sehwag, Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Ganguly were batting around him. However, Dravid was a better shot-maker, more cerebral in tactics, played a bigger role in team vision and could adapt to wicketkeeping skills.
Pujara’s teammates aren’t Tendulkar, Sehwag and Laxman. Hence he is expected to play a bigger and more consistent role, failing which he could also get the Test sack.
The shock of getting dropped in Birmingham in 2018 woke him out of his comfort zone. More authoritative centuries followed: 132 not out in a team total of 246 in Southampton; 123 out of 250 in Adelaide. He was easily the best batsman on view from either side in these Tests. Then followed tons at the MCG and SCG.
When Pujara came into his own – and showed his best side – India won a Test series in Australia in 2018-19, albeit in the absence of Steven Smith and David Warner. In that series, Pujara was exemplary against crafty offie Nathan Lyon. It was an exhibition in how to pick length, use one’s feet and choose scoring areas.
However, due to the pandemic and a lack of T20 credentials, Pujara didn’t get enough competitive games under his belt last year. The contrast is stark: In the last 18 Test innings, he has scored 477 runs at 26.5 with no hundreds. The 18 Test innings prior to that were productive had fetched him 930 runs at 54.7 with four centuries.
In a bid to put the forgettable year behind and start the new year afresh, he will probably need to think differently about his batting approach without compromising on his core qualities. Adding a touch of fearlessness and a sparkle from Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant could also help.
Like he tided over the sack in Birmingham and fought back gallantly, Pujara must use the demotion from stand-in vice-captaincy as a hint and soar again.