Pujara comfortably fits into ‘big shoes’



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He couldn’t do much with the bat in the Indian Premier League this year, but since he was being compared with the likes of Dravid and Laxman, it is self explanatory that the right-hander was made for the longer format of the game. Pujara isn’t the best of runner between the wickets as well. But all one needs to excel in the longer format is patience and technique. Cheteshwar Pujara is truly blessed with both these qualities.

Patience is also something which the Indian selectors have taught him in abundance over the years. Even after scoring runs at a phenomenal pace, Pujara couldn’t cement his place in a team, which still had quality players like Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. Although he made his Test debut in 2010 against Aussies, he just had three Tests to his name prior to the ongoing New Zealand series.

The 24-year-old who made his debut against Australia in 2010, immediately made an impact by playing a match winning knock of 72 runs in the fourth innings. A classy innings where he dismantled the Australian attack in Bangalore, an innings which even hampered the concentration of Ricky Ponting who ended up setting wrong fielding for Hauritz, who was punished by Pujara. While doing so, he became only the fifth Indian to score 50 or more in the fourth innings on debut. But even a formidable knock like that couldn’t confirm his place in Team India.

Things changed in Pujara’s favour after the Indian batsmen played what could be their worst performance on foreign soil in two successive series. After a disappointing series Down Under, ‘The Wall’ decided to hang up his boots as he couldn’t meet the high standards he sets for himself. Dravid who scored three centuries in England last year, struggled to keep the momentum going in Australia and could only manage 194 runs in 8 innings. It wasn’t that bad a performance, but from Dravid’s perspective, it was the right time to make way for youngsters.

Ahead of the fourth and final Test against Australia, veteran columnists and cricketers pitched in the idea of replacing Laxman with Rohit Sharma. But the selectors didn’t change the playing eleven for the last match and Team India returned home with questions being raised over the future of many cricketers. Laxman who was included in the first Test against New Zealand, in a decision which surprised many, announced his retirement with ‘immediate affect’, a decision which opened the doors for Cheteshwar Pujara.

The experts won’t be surprised with his maiden ton against New Zealand. It was just a matter of time that the 24-year-old was given a chance. He has some huge knocks to his name in the domestic circuit and now he has officially announced his arrival at the big stage with his maiden ton in his 4th Test. He was sent in to bat at number 3 ahead of Virat Kohli, the same position where he scored 72 runs against the Aussies in 2010 and this time he made sure that he got a century to his name. It was an innings of style and substance. With his technique and calmness, Sourav Ganguly and Sanjay Manjrekar couldn’t stop themselves from comparing Pujara as an apt replacement for Rahul Dravid.

The shoes are really big to fill, when you know you have replaced one of the best batsmen in India’s history of Test cricket. But the manner in which he scored his brilliant ton against the Kiwis, Pujara looked well prepared for the big moment and was unfazed by the media reports which questioned his abilities to replace the legends.

The fans will take some time to digest Laxman’s shock exit from international cricket. All of us would have loved to see him play his last Test in Hyderabad, a place which is known to produce artists with magical wrists. But for now, lets hail the man who deserved to be a part of the Test squad long ago, and now that he is, the 24-year-old looks like someone who can strengthen a Laxman, Dravid-less fragile Indian batting line-up.