Che Pujara: From Collateral to Colossus Over One Australian Summer
(This story was first published on 8 Jan, 2019 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark Cheteshwar Pujara’s 31st birthday)
The Oxford Dictionary defines collateral as “something pledged as security for repayment of a loan, to be forfeited in the event of a default”.
Let’s go through Cheteshwar Pujara’s exclusions from the Indian Test team since establishing himself as a ‘regular’ in the squad:
- Sydney, 2015: Dropped in favour of Rohit Sharma after 201 runs in six innings.
- Gros Islet, 2016: Dropped in favour of Rohit Sharma for a slow-crawling 46 off 159 at Kingston.
- Edgbaston, 2018: KL Rahul preferred at number three despite a Pujara 50 in India’s previous away Test, a victory at Johannesburg.
For a man who now boasts 18 Test hundreds, Pujara, until very recently, has been India’s favourite whipping tool when it comes to selection; India’s ‘collateral’, if you may.
The same Oxford Dictionary defines colossus as “a person or thing of enormous size, importance, or ability”.
The Work of a Workman
Pujara’s omissions from Indian Test XIs weren’t always an injustice of nature – there were visible chinks in the armour, in particular in the ‘tough’ parts of the world.
While he amassed the runs without fail when at home, or in Sri Lanka (three 100s in six innings, average 90.80), there were legitimate grounds to believe Pujara was being found out in the tougher climes of Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.
After impressing in South Africa towards the end of 2013, with an average of 70 from two Tests, the number three fared miserably through the rest of India’s previous touring cycle.
Things didn’t appear to be changing when the ongoing touring cycle kicked off in South Africa a year ago either. A round 50 in the first innings at Johannesburg formed half of Pujara’s runs through the three-Test series, one where he averaged 16.66 – his lowest in any series of more than two matches through his career.
The travelling caravan moved to England, and after sitting out at Edgbaston, Pujara returned with scores of 1 and 17 at Lord’s. But that was part of an innings drubbing where India managed a match total of 237 runs.
Then came the Nottingham Test, starting 18 August 2018. It’s a date, or a Test, marking a renaissance.
From Also-Ran to ‘The’ Man
Pujara’s scores away from home ever since?
- Nottingham: 14 & 72 (India won by 203 runs)
- Southampton: 132* & 5 (India lost by 60 runs)
- The Oval: 37 & 0 (India lost by 118 runs)
- Adelaide: 123 & 71 (India won by 31 runs)
- Perth: 24 & 4 (India lost by 146 runs)
- Melbourne: 106 & 0 (India won by 137 runs)
- Sydney: 193 (match drawn)
Notice how, barring one game at Southampton, all of Pujara’s sizeable contributions have resulted in victories (with the exception of the rain-marred draw at Sydney). In modern-day cricket, India’s number fours may have held a more-revered status – but India’s number threes have proven more pivotal to wins on alien land.
Virat Kohli may be the golden standard of batting across the globe, but in the greatest test of his world number one ranked unit, the efforts of the man preceding him in the batting order may have succeeded even Kohli’s genius. If India go on to complete the unprecedented task – a Test series win in Australia – Pujara will be the man who made the series India’s.
What one Rahul Dravid was to Headingley 2002, Adelaide 2003, Rawalpindi 2004 and Kingston 2006, Pujara has been to Jo’burg, Nottingham, Adelaide, Melbourne and now (possibly) Sydney in 2018/19.
Secure Amid Insecurity
Pujara’s iconic predecessor, a man accustomed to living in the shadows himself, was all praise for his efforts – and resolve amid trying times.
“He (Pujara) has been brilliant in the series. If we go on to win on Sunday, he would’ve played two match-winning innings in two Test matches that India has won. I think it’s terrific, the way he has come back after not being picked for the first Test match in England.”Rahul Dravid, during the Melbourne Test (29 Dec)
Another former great of Indian batting, Sunil Gavaskar – the first Indian to hit three hundreds in a Test series Down Under, a feat now matched by Pujara – took an even stronger stance after the opening day’s play at Sydney.
Think about it. Pujara’s ‘relevance’ to Indian cricket is limited to one format, known for not attracting too many in the crash-and-bang age of the game.
In May this year, when India embark upon their bid to become world champions again, he will lie temporarily-forgotten. Even before that, come the Indian summer, Pujara’s appearances will be restricted to being trolled on Twitter in the wake of the IPL season – which he won’t be part of for the fifth year running.
Given how runs made on home soil rarely go towards the annals of Indian batsmanship, his next ‘real’ Test may not come for another two years.
But over one Australian summer, Pujara – he who could so easily have veered towards insecurity – has secured his spot, and his status.
Over one Australian summer, Cheteshwar Pujara has gone from collateral, to colossus.