Cheteshwar Pujara – On hearing this name the first thing that comes to an avid Test cricket watcher’s mind is grit, determination, a picture of unflappable concentration. A guy who will absorb everything thrown at him with a simple half-forward defense and emit everything(well not at the same speed). A guy who will annoy the best bowlers in the world, not by hitting sixes or fours or even singles but by blocking every good ball and telling them “Well done my son, but if you want my wicket, bowl two more spells like that”.
For a common man who loves Test cricket, Pujara’s batting is a mirror image of his everyday office life. A long, tedious ordeal and at the end of the day the reward he gets for all the hard work, minimal and unfair. But, what does the same Pujara mean to a huge fan of T20 cricket or for a guy who watches cricket for fours, sixes in other words entertainment?(according to his dictionary).
Good luck if you want to explain why you consider Pujara’s batting superior to Lynn, Gayle, Russell and all other T20 stalwarts. The reply you will get is “ What is interesting about a guy who scores 30 off 100 balls ”or this “Cricket is all about scoring runs not blocking balls idiot”.
This is what cricket has become of late. A brutal, bloodthirsty affair where 7 people armed with the best weapons in the world go against 4 hapless bowlers. Cricket has never been more one-sided in its history and the irony, people who watch the sport are more than ever before too. All they want is a six, they don’t care if it’s an inside-out shot or an outside edge off an ugly swipe. So those people can never understand “the entertainment” in Pujara’s batting. But all we(Test cricket fans) can do is try and explain.
Ask your friend to sit and watch the first 53 balls of Pujara’s innings in the first innings of the Wanderers Test. India had already lost the series and were playing for pride. KL Rahul got out in the 4th over. The pitch was a nightmare for any batsman. Philander was unstoppable, Morkel unplayable. Amidst all this chaos, Pujara came out to bat. A lot of criticism was riding on him due to his poor record overseas. And in the last Test, he was run out twice becoming the first Indian batsman to do so. The first ball he faced from Vernon, back of a length outside off and left alone. The same followed for the rest of the over. For a moment, he made it look easy to bat in the toughest of conditions. But then, Philander is too smart to predict. The 1st ball of the 6th over, the ball was coming straight towards Pujara’s defense and then moved away after pitching. For another bowler, this was a dream delivery. For Philander, it was a daily routine. The next four balls were all well played, but again Philander outsmarted him with an incoming delivery. The bounce was the savior for Pujara. The same thing followed in the next two overs. Philander bowled an absolute cracker that cut Pujara in half and yet another jaffa. Again, if not for the bounce Pujara was gone. At the other end, Morkel was bowling those rippers. This was Test cricket at its very best. Ah! That joy you get as a Test cricket fan on seeing the batsman and bowler constantly trying to out-think each other can’t be put into words.
The battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object had just begun.
And for the first thirteen overs, it looked like the force will win. Philander had the ball under imperius curse. It was doing whatever he wanted it to do. The object was battered, bruised yet refused to budge.
And just when you thought the storm had passed, a 22-year-old kid named Kagiso Rabada was slowly getting ready to meet the object.
What followed this time was not swing or prodigious seam movement. It was a youngster steaming in with all his might to try and move the object. Yet the object remained intact. Not to forget Lungi Ngidi who was wreaking havoc at the other end. When Pujara finally got off the mark, there were smiles everywhere. For many it was a joke, for me it was a relief because the man deserved a run after everything he had gone through. Even the bowlers were relieved because finally he had tried to score and all their frustration has ended. For 53 balls, Pujara had bullied the bowlers in his own inimitable way.
Now ask your friend his thoughts about what he saw. If your friend is human, the reply you will get his “Phew, Test cricket is something else, man”.
And it is indeed something else. So is Pujara. In an era where getting bat on the ball is regarded as “positive intent” irrespective of whether you get out or not, he is the ultimate exception. There are many in the world who can frustrate the bowlers by counterattacking, but there is only one who can do it by defending.
Long live Test cricket. Long live Pujara.