Slow but steady, India's Pujara constructs another test hundred

February 17, 2023 5:40 am

India's Cheteshwar Pujara in action.

Cheteshwar Pujara does not fit into the popular image of a modern-day cricketer — the muscle-flaunting and social media-savvy lot — but is on the verge of a milestone that would be the stuff of dreams for most of them.

Some 13 years after his debut against a Ricky Ponting-led Australia side in Bangalore, Pujara will step out at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium on Friday to play his 100th against the familiar foes.

It has been a rollercoaster journey for the 35-year-old, whose batting, built around a watertight defence, is something of an anachronism particularly when England are threatening to change how test cricket is played with their ultra-aggressive ‘Bazball’ approach.

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Even within India’s star-studded batting lineup of flashy shot-makers, Pujara, who bats as if runs are to be earned and not plundered, is conspicuous by not being so.

At number three, his primary task is to soak up the pressure and soften the new ball, sometimes putting his body on the line, to make batting easier for those around him.

Pujara played the last of his five one-day internationals in 2014 and his name does not attract bids in the Indian Premier League but India’s top order bulwark has refused to overhaul his game to suit shorter formats.

“Each and every player has different style. What I have learnt in all these years is – stick to your strengths,” Pujara told reporters on Thursday.

“You need to back that and I have added few shots to my game in last couple of years and I’m continuing to grow as a cricketer.”

Australia will be sick of the sight of Pujara crouching on his bat-down stance having found him practically immovable when India became the first Asian nation to win a test series Down Under in 2018-19.

Pujara finished the series as the leading scorer and the player-of-the-series award.

Blessed with an incredible power of concentration, Pujara has forged a technique that allows him to grind down an attack, and his 7000-plus test runs, which include 19 hundreds, vindicates that old-world approach.

His strike rate, 44.44, is occasionally debated but the fact that he is dismissed once every 99.4 deliveries makes him a long-form asset.

Pujara is celebrated for his determination which has earned him the Tamil Nickname ‘Mirugam’, which means ‘the beast’, from team mate Ravichandran Ashwin.

“Just like a beast focuses single-mindedly on its prey, Puji focuses on batting,” Ashwin wrote on ESPNcricinfo website.

Discipline and detachment, especially from social media, are crucial to his game, says Pujara.

“One has to be disciplined to be successful in test format over a period of time.

“It’s important to shut out the outside noise… I try to detach myself from social media, newspapers and televisions – even if it’s positive (publicity).”