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Is Cheteshwar Pujara the new Rahul Dravid?

4 days ago
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The world’s No.1 Test team needed a flying start to assert themselves in this Adelaide Test, yet their irresponsible, overconfident and brash stroke play suggested otherwise.

Poor shot selection compounded by epic brain fades caused the downfall of many batsmen in this Indian side, resulting in them gifting their wickets cheaply to an Aussie outfit desperate to show their country that they had changed for the better. Australia bowled well with much pace, aggression and accuracy, but even they will agree that it was definitely the visitors that got themselves out on Day 1.

As India stumbled to five for 86 with a long tail to follow, Tim Paine could be seen licking his lips at the prospect of bundling out the tourists for under 150. As the Bollywood beats faded quicker than India’s hopes, one man stood firm. One man refused to give in. One man decided he would not allow his team to follow a narrative they had been accustomed to for so long on Aussie soil.

They call him Cheteshwar Pujara, the new wall of India.

Pujara was sublime, stoic and erudite in his innings. India needed someone to stand up and hold the fort as wickets continued to tumble like nine pins. Pujara answered the call handsomely. While his fellow countrymen lunged greedily at the wide full balls offered by Mitchell Starc and friends, Pujara simply said, “Nope. Goodbye off drive. Goodbye cover drive. Hello discipline. Hello patience. Let’s dig in for a long one”.

And dig in he did. The on-drive and flick soon became his most productive shots as he waited sensibly for the ball to enter his zone for a scoring opportunity. Pujara’s foundation was built session by session as he accumulated the deliveries and soaked in the sapping conditions. He was immovable, defiant and unforgiving in his bat-a-thon, causing Australia to wait hungrily for a chance to attack the lesser batsman at the other end.

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At one point he was 19 off 90 balls, and it was obvious that he was not going to leave anytime soon. The man himself later admitted that it took him two whole sessions work out how to bat on the Adelaide pitch, and thankfully his graft breathed new life into an otherwise hapless Indian first innings.

As Pujara’s yogic powers of concentration continued to grow, it was clear that the memory of another great Indian legend was manifesting himself in this defiant performance. Could Pujara be the Rahul Dravid for his generation? Given this hundred, his batting style and even the statistics and past performances, there is certainly enough evidence to show that this could be a possibility.

(AP Photo/James Elsby)

Pujara is no stranger to playing the Mr Dependable role for his country, and he has done so on more than one occasion throughout his relatively young career. Back in November 2012, in the second Test match against England at Mumbai, India were once again reeling at five for 119, with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, a young Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh all back in the shed for not much. The latter had been castled for a duck by Graeme Swann too.

Pujara came in, assessed the situation and applied supreme discipline to grind his team out of a hole to a respectable first innings score of 327. He scored a phenomenal 135 off a mind-boggling 350 balls at a monk-like strike rate of just 38.27. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say; though on this occasion it wasn’t enough to grant India a victory.

The great wall of Pujara would again show his powers against Sri Lanka in August 2015 in the third Test at Colombo. With the visitors teetering at seven for 180, Pujara’s unbeaten 145 off 289 balls arrested the momentum back India’s way, lifting them to 312. He had scored over 45 per cent of the team total by himself, a monumental effort that secured India the win and ultimately the series.

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England once again witnessed another Pujara epic in August of this year at Southampton in the final Test. Sweating it out, Pujara prospered with yet another gutsy unbeaten 132 off 257 balls to take India to 273 after they had earlier fallen to eight for 195. It just goes to show how tough, patient and mentally strong Pujara is; it almost seems as though he was made to bat in these situations, further likening this possible comparison to the great Rahul Dravid.

Even on a statistical level there are some uncanny developments in Pujara’s career that continue to draw a strong similarity to Dravid. Pujara is currently 30 years old and has 16 Test hundreds to his name. Rahul Dravid at 30 also had 16 Test hundreds to his name. It took 67 innings for Dravid to reach 3000 Test runs, 84 innings to reach 4000 and 108 innings to hit 5000 runs. As Pujara crossed the 5000 mark with his first Test century Down Under, the number of innings taken for him to reach those previous milestones follows this exact same parable. Truly remarkable.

So it begs the question: Will Pujara one day grow into a batsman of a calibre akin to the mighty Rahul Dravid? With his traditional Test match batting style, exceptionally calm temperament and supreme powers of concentration, it now remains highly likely.

With a healthy Test match batting average at a tick over 50, there are strong signs that we will witness further great innings from him, ensuring that the great wall of India continues to build well into the 21st century. Dravid will certainly be pleased.