India vs England | Why Cheteshwar Pujara’s selection was an inspired decision by Team India

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India vs England | Why Cheteshwar Pujara’s selection was an inspired decision by Team India

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Bastab K Parida

Last Friday at 5:52 PM

Hi Readers. Give me some liberty to take you down the memory lane or should I say most of your other love interests apart from cricket. For many, like me in India, Cricket is the first love with cinema and music being the close seconds.

Let me draw a parallel. Indian cricket, over the years, has been blessed with some immaculate combinations and none better than the wonderful trio of Dravid, Tendulkar, and Laxman. They had the power to create melodies in tough match situations and painting the stage with the chords and vocals that were just sublime like the great playback singers of yesteryear who were so different from each other, but equally magical. Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Hemant, Talat and Manna Dey. A classical ensemble - profound, and rich. They were cricket’s classical sculptors and never paraded their toughness. If anything, it emerged between the lines of his performances and that was enough of an answer. 

Not modern Indian cricket though. Their emotions are always on display in the team that swears by their captain’s swagger and macho competitiveness. And in an expressive team like that, Cheteshwar Pujara was always going to be a misfit. He is not flamboyant like some of the other teammates nor does he have the allure of a stroke-maker. He is the Sitar in an age when rock dominates the charts. People respect him but don’t want to hang out with him.  

But, that doesn’t make Pujara a bad batsman. He may have averaged only 14.33 in the last county stint and may have a terrible overseas record, averaging only 35.27 in contrast to his gargantuan 62.42 at home, but like every good story, there is more here than meets the eye. 

He provides a level of precision that was usually Rahul Dravid's calling card in the past. As Shoaib Akhtar, once stated, nothing is more frustrating for a pacer than the batsman letting the ball go to the wicket-keeper's gloves without even offering a shot. And in that count, Pujara is India’s rock solid master. In the last 10 years, among all batsmen in the international cricket, only Virat Kohli plays a false shot fewer times than Pujara. While the notion that he is bad in the pace-friendly conditions takes deep root among cricket fans all over, Pujara, the silent artist that he is, actually quite different than that. He may have struggled to score runs in the last few series outside sub-continent, he is not vulnerable against swing bowling as per pure statistics. Actually, he is India's best batsman in swinging condition. Let me clarify something - this is not an opinion but rather a fact.

The fact that the Saurashtra batsman is the only Indian player to have averaged over 40 when the ball swings more than 1.475° - the average amount of swing that the pacers were able to generate at Edgbaston in the game - speaks volume of his ability. And also, it is not borderline. Pujara averages an incredible 90.60 when the ball swings more than that with the second best being Kohli, who has an average of 39.60 in the similar circumstance. 

Yes. Statistics can be misleading. So, moving away from that, the factor that works in Pujara’s favour is that, he has more county experience than any other player in the current crop of Indian batsmen and understands the conditions better than anybody. Yes, even better than the Indian skipper. 

It is not to say that the Indian No.3 doesn’t have a glaring weakness in pacer-friendly conditions. He is a weaker batsman against the short ball, one that Indians call the “Raina syndrome”. But, in England, the bounce is less of a threat than in South Africa or Australia, and that can give a sigh of relief to Pujara. Amidst everything, the most important thing that he brings to the team is the wealth of experience and the ability to graft and make the new ball old thanks to his brilliant off-stump judgement, which can help Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane bat with more freedom in the middle-order. Today, Kohli failed to understand that and his over-eagerness cost Cheteshwar Pujara his wicket when the run was clearly not there. 

Today, it was not Pujara's day. Emotions would have been flying high. Life may not have been fair to him today. But, one thing is always certain - there is always a hope of a better tomorrow. One can only hope the day comes sooner rather than later.

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