Fans have reconciled to the idea that Cheteshwar Pujara will be a slow batsman even in Test cricket. That he will scoff delivery after delivery unperturbed. Yes, no problem with that as long as he keeps on contributing in a significant way.
That’s the condition and it’s non-negotiable. Why? Because the moment Pujara’s runs dry up, which largely come from ones and twos, he sort of becomes a hindrance to batsmen at the other end who may not be as disposed to not rotating the strike as Pujara; batsmen whose game gets affected because of the inertia shown at the other end by the Saurashtra batsman.
Cricket has changed a lot and T20s have taken over the game. Batting technique has changed accordingly to meet the requirements of the shortest format. The impact of T20s is quite visible on ODIs and Tests. It is a strong possibility that other Indian batsmen in the team, most of whom also have limited-overs ambitions unlike Pujara who has none whatsoever having been out of contention several years now, may not be comfortable with the 32-year-old at the other end gobbling up deliveries. Having a totally different style of their own, they could get frustrated and as a consequence play shots they shouldn't.
The issue regarding Pujara’s slow batting had come to the fore in 2015-16 when Virat Kohli himself admitted the former was too slow for the team’s liking. He was even dropped largely for that reason. But then the fighter that he is, Pujara strung together several great innings particularly overseas when he got his chances. His efficiency with the bat and good results for India quieted his distractors and made him a batting mainstay over time in Test cricket.
However, it’s the bitter truth that if he doesn’t score big runs, his place in the playing XI does become untenable. In both the Tests in Australia he has failed and considering that he didn’t do well in New Zealand either last year, makes fans question, not necessarily his credentials and place in the team, but certainly his approach. If you cannot score with your preferred way, surely there are other ways to explore.
In a clincher of an argument... Pujara has scored 63 runs at a strike rate of 26.03 in the two Tests against Australia so far and in the previous Test series against New Zealand last year he scored 100 runs in two games at the strike rate of 28.49. In another series in recent years where he struggled was against South Africa in 2017-18 when, in the rainbow nation, he scored 100 runs in 3 Tests at a strike rate of 29.23.
His career strike rate is close to 46 and that, along with the above-mentioned tours of South Africa and New Zealand, puts Pujara’s performance in perspective that extremely slow batting does affect his output with the bat. There is indeed enough evidence to ponder over for Pujara.
It may also be noted that India did lose those series against South Africa and New Zealand and it will be, after the high of the Melbourne Test, delusional to think India can beat Australia in Australia one match after another without any real contributions from Pujara. Last time around in Australia Pujara had scored 521 in four Tests at a strike rate of 41.41 in India’s historic 2-1 win.
His role in the next two games becomes even more crucial since the vengeful Aussies, make no mistake, will come out firing on all cylinders, particularly in the batting department. If Australia do manage to post a big total, which they haven’t done so far, India will need Pujara more than ever before. Fans will hope that Pujara will start rotating the strike more often from here on and help not only his but also the team’s cause. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the result of the ongoing rubber very much hinges on how well Pujara rotates the strike and how quickly he scores his runs in the remaining games.
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