How Cheteshwar Pujara has mastered the art of shifting gears

Pujara scored his 9th international century today. Previously, he scored 373 runs at an average of 74.6 in the series against New Zealand

When Cheteshwar Pujara came into the Indian Test team, he was touted to be the next Rahul Dravid. Sound technique, ability to play a long innings and see off the new ball. Pujara had ticked all the boxes in the checklist to become the ‘Great Wall’. But the inception of T20 cricket brought a significant change in Test cricket. Strike-rate was one aspect that was ignored in Test cricket for long. But not anymore.

Earlier, Test matches would go on for five days and the possibilities of a match ending in a draw were much higher than a favourable outcome. Things have changed now. Aggressive cricket with an approach that offense is the best form of defense is what most captains practice and preach. In order to win a Test match, a lot depends on the batsmen to score big runs in quick time. If the batsmen score quickly, bowlers get ample time to bowl out the opposition.

With a sound technique and ability to let go deliveries or block them with a straight bat, it was indeed a difficult task for Pujara to adapt to this version of Test cricket. Pujara started his career playing for Saurashtra in domestic cricket. After five years of toil in the domestic circuit, Pujara got his international call in 2010. He made his debut against the mighty Australians and scored just four runs in his first innings. His score of 72 in the second innings showed his class and temperament.

Over the years, he went on to play many more substantial knocks for the team and cemented his place in the national side. In 38 Tests that he has played so far, Pujara averages around 50. With two double hundreds against England and Australia, Pujara’s comparison with Dravid was a common inference. His innings of 206 not out against England and 204 versus Australia helped India win both the Tests and was awarded the man of the match on both occasions.

However, his recent performance on the tour of West Indies drew criticism from many. Not that he didn’t contribute with the bat, but the rate at which he did, didn’t please anyone. Pujara in one innings scored 16 runs from 67 balls with a strike-rate of 23.88 and in the other knock, he contributed 46 from 159 balls with a strike-rate of 28.93. His ‘slow’ innings according to modern day cricket became the talk of the town as captain Virat Kohli wasn’t amused.

In a press conference, Kumble clarified that he is a “vital cog in the team” and has “no pressure on him” to score quickly. The former India leg-spinner also added that in his opinion, “strike rates are only relevant to bowlers in Test cricket, not the batsmen.” But somewhere Pujara knew that he had to prove his worth and add pace to his innings. As New Zealand toured India for a three-match Test series, Cheteshwar Pujara version 2.0 was ready with all the answers.

In the ongoing Test series against England, Pujara scored his 9th international century at his home ground, Rajkot. With scores of 62, 78, 87, 4, 41, and 101 not out in the previous six innings, Pujara gathered 373 runs in the last series against New Zealand at an average of 74.6. What is worth mentioning are the strike-rates in all the innings (56.88, 51.31, 39.72, 57.14, 37.96 and 68.24). Pujara doubled his strike-rate from the West Indies tour. In his previous knock of 101 not out, his first fifty came in 96 balls. Playing for the team, he went on to add runs quickly so that India could declare at the earliest.

The second half of his fifty was almost run a ball. He faced 51 deliveries in the second half and went on to score his eighth Test century. How Pujara has adapted, goes on to show why the right-handed batsman is the best that India has for the number three spot.

WATCH: Pujara shares what it means to be a part of the number one Test team

(Video Courtesy: Facebook/Indian Cricket Team)

  • (Cover Video Courtesy: Six)