Who would’ve thought that India would ever have a dearth of quality spinners?
India’s cricket team returned triumphant from Australia this year, proving the sceptics wrong.
The Down Under series featured 20 players, and only two of them played all four Tests. One was Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain and then captain of the next three games, and the other was Cheteshwar Pujara, the man who has earnt the epithet of India’s wall.
Pujara is no stranger to Aussie fans. On the previous tour of Australia he had already shown why he is still a purist among the batsmen, and on this tour it became increasingly evident that they don’t make them like him anymore. He had a huge hand to play in drawing the Sydney Test and the breaching of the fortress at the Gabba.
Before I talk about him, let me touch on which dying art of batting I am talking about. Red-ball (or pink-ball) cricket historically has been played by those who love to occupy those 22 yards and are not in a hurry to score. Technique is more sacred to them than the tally, and the sound of the middle of the willow hitting leather even in a defensive stroke is music to their years.
Fans have been privy to some of the best in the business before, and there have been a number of them who loved to occupy the crease and never seemed in a hurry. Now the modern-day fast-food cricket fans think that those occupiers have brought the downfall of Test cricket – but that is a discussion for a different day.
The art of occupying the crease, even if you don’t score the runs, requires someone to be blessed with the virtue of immense patience. Not everyone has that. You have to always put the team above anything else, and your personal laurels have to take the backseat. This bunch of cricketers are great performers, but they are more solid than showy. The glamorous life is not something they crave. They don’t strive to be the poster boys of cricket.
There are various types of cricketers, and Cheteshwar Pujara is the kind you would want to bat to save your life. There used to be a Pujara in every team, but franchise cricket has made this breed rarer than tigers.
Cheteshwar Pujara was unfazed by the noise and the criticism around him, and his ability to thrive when the chips are down makes him a most reliable person. Players like Rishabh Pant and Shubman Gill took the accolades, but only the purists and people with a deep understanding of the sport read between the lines and recognised the contribution of Pujara, who was literally battered while batting.
If you read his explanation, he has said that he readily took the blows on the body to keep his hand or glove away. This requires serious bravery and, more so, awareness of your own technique.
It is unfortunate that people like him have only one form of cricket to earn their livelihood, and in the age of people a decade younger cashing in, it is easier to forgo the art of batting and adopt a commercial approach. He is like the yesteryear Bollywood actors who worked in parallel cinema or art cinema to earn their livelihoods when a number of their peers went down the commercial route because they thought the art form was dying.
Pujara deserves his accolades for making peace with himself in letting the lure of franchise cricket not contaminate his worship of the bat. Think about it: he’s someone with such experience but is not an all-format player for India. In fact he has played only five ODIs. The rest of his career has comprised Test cricket.
The man who he is compared to, the original wall of India, Rahul Dravid, was still an all-format player and an adept ODI player, but with the slam-bang brigade readily available and India boasting a bench that no other country can stake a claim on, Pujara will not get that opportunity. COVID has even robbed him of domestic cricket, where he showed up regularly to get some match practice and make his state team Saurashtra proud. It’s a different story that both Dravid and Pujara are embodiments of.
I can only write this tribute to the man who has been at least as valuable, if not more so, as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Shubman Gill in the past two series wins on the Aussie soil. Strongly I would suggest people support Test cricket so that the art of batting doesn’t disappear.