Today, when even Test cricket is expected to be played on a fast-forward mode, Cheteshwar Pujara seems to be the last batter of his kind. Available to play only the red-ball format, this battle-scarred warrior has been through a lot since making his Test debut against Australia in October 2010.
A landmark moment awaits Pujara on Friday. After 99 Tests, 7021 runs comprising 19 centuries and 34 half centuries, Pujara will become the 13th Indian to reach century of Tests with the second India-Australia Test at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground here.
Patience personified, Pujara has covered the distance with sheer grit and determination. Who can forget the nine body blows he took in the 2021 Brisbane Test? Besides his stone-walling tactics, he owns an array of strokes, whether caressing the ball into the gaps or unleashing some fluent drives in the ‘V’. Pujara can test the patience of the opposition with his intentional, unhurried approach while unintentionally frustrating the spectators with his slow batting.
Not surprisingly, Pujara remains the only Indian to face 500 deliveries in a Test innings. Again, it was against Australia in March 2017 at Ranchi where he scored 202 off 525 balls. He surpassed the record of Rahul Dravid whose 495-ball 270 came against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004.
In spite of being blessed with run-amassing skills, Pujara has often attracted criticism for his inability to rotate the strike.
Ironically, the man expected to reassure his teammates with his calm approach at the crease in challenging conditions, on occasions, has made batting appear as the most difficult task.
After Dravid’s retirement, Pujara’s role was well defined but it proved a tough ride. Even after long periods of struggle, if Pujara retained his place, it was only due to the faith of the team management. After all, when it came to providing solidity and batting in adverse conditions on overseas tours, Pujara was always the go-to man.
However, sometimes it is difficult to understand and justify Pujara’s over-cautious approach. In January 2018, Pujara needed 53 deliveries to score against South Africa at Johannesburg. In the process, he took away the dubious record of the slowest to score in a Test innings from Dravid who used up 40 deliveries for his first run against Australia at Melbourne in 2007.
Again in 2018, at Perth, Pujara took 100 balls to reach 24. If this was considered unimaginably slow for a top-order batter, Pujara redefined ‘patience’ by scoring just 12 off 100 balls against England at Lord’s in August 2021. One recalls, the crowd cheered his first run that came after 35 deliveries and a smiling Pujara punched gloves with Virat Kohli in a lighter vein.
Notwithstanding Pujara’s old-fashioned approach to batting, his latest century against Bangladesh in December 2022 has brought the smiles back on the faces of the purists. After all, he is one of a kind. In all probabilty, the last one, too.