WTC Final: Is Cheteshwar Pujara’s Form a Concern for India?
In 2018, when the rest of the team struggled, Cheteshwar Pujara scored his first century in England.
While most of the Indian Test team do not have the best of memories of playing at the Rose Bowl, Cheteshwar Pujara has some very good memories the last time he was there. In 2018, when the rest of the team struggled, he scored his first century in England, and never really looked back in Tests overseas.
His next tour would be that of Australia in 2018-19, when he scored three centuries, and shook a leg as India won a historic away series.
However, since then, Pujara’s struggled to convert his knocks into big scores and has not registered a century to go with nine-half centuries. As India eye Test cricket’s biggest prize, the Virat Kohli-led team will bank heavily on Pujara to do his thing.
Like he did in Australia in the 2018-19 series, one of the main tasks for Pujara in the World Test Championship final will be batting time, especially against a bowling attack that has troubled India a fair bit in recent years.
For Pujara too the game holds a lot of importance. "This is the first time we are in a WTC final. We have worked hard over a period of time. It's just like playing in a 50-over or T20 World Cup final,” he said.
In his last 8 innings, Pujara has scored only a couple of fifties, which means for a while he has not been able to do what he loves most – bat and tire out opposition bowlers.
Pujara vs New Zealand
The right-handed batter has played a total of 9 Tests against New Zealand, scoring a couple of centuries and four fifties. In all, so far, he’s scored 749 runs from 17 innings with an average of 46.81.
However, Pujara has struggled against the Kiwis when they’ve not played in India – an aspect that both sides will be well aware of going into the game.
He has scored only 160 runs from 8 innings with one half century and an average of 20 when India have toured NZ.
When India toured NZ just before the coronavirus pandemic, Pujara was expected to keep the hosts attack at bay but managed a half century in the first innings of the second Test only in the two-match series. While Kyle Jamieson troubled him with his bounce, Trent Boult left him unsure of where his stumps were – a very rare happenstance with Pujara.
While this is good news for NZ’s bowlers, Pujara and the Indian think tank, who have constantly backed the batter, will hope for a turn around. Will the past few performances play on Pujara’s mind?
Pujara Form Since the 2018-19 Australia Tour
Since the landmark first Test series win in Australia, where Pujara was the hero, batting the opposition bowlers into submission, the numbers have not been very impressive.
In 17 Tests, home and away, Pujara has not managed to get a century and scored 818 runs at an average of 29.21.
Be that as it may, Pujara’s most recent overseas outing was also in Australia, where India took body blow after body blow before pulling off a stunning series win.
Initially having found it tough, it was Pujara’s dogged resistance that paved the way for the historic draw at Sydney and then the win at Brisbane. In both the Tests, Pujara scored second innings half centuries.
Pujara in England
Overseas, Pujara has played the second highest number of Tests in his career in England (9), after Australia (11), and is one of three countries where his average is below 30.
In 18 innings, Pujara has scored 500 runs at an average of 29.41 with one century and two half centuries.
While that in itself does not spark a lot of confidence, Pujara has found it tough to get runs in Southampton too, apart from one century. In two Tests, Pujara has scored 24, 2, 132*, and 5.
What India Need from Pujara in WTC Final?
It is no secret that the conditions in England are going to favour the pacers with the ball moving around a fair bit. And with the NZ team being more familiar with the conditions, India’s task will be that slight bit harder.
Pujara himself said that the lack of preparation isn’t ideal but believes the team can do the needful at Southampton.
In Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Kyle Jamieson, New Zealand have a very potent pace attack. They might not have tearaway pace but can more than make the ball and conditions talk, something everyone in the Indian team will agree with. What makes it worse is that before the Australians found a way to keep Pujara from batting long hours, it was Kyle Jamieson, Trent Boult and co who were able to find a way past the defences.
At the Rose Bowl, Pujara’s task will simply be to tire out the Kiwi bowlers, who have troubled him a fair bit earlier.
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