At a time when most Indian cricketers hog limelight by playing Twenty20 cricket, Cheteshwar Pujara’s story is of a completely different kind. He is one of those rare breeds in Indian cricket, who is being seen as a serious Test prospect. And it is apt that the Indian selectors named him in the Test team to take on mighty Australia in October.
The run-machine from Saurashtra played 45 Ranji matches so far and scored 3416 runs, including 12 hundreds, with a healthy average of 56.00. Moreover, his overall first class average is an astounding 60.38 from 49 matches.
Ever since he started playing cricket, Pujara has become one of the most talked about young cricketers. Such is the consistency and perseverance of this young man, he is already being touted as the ‘Wall in Waiting’-waiting to replace the real ‘Wall’ of Indian cricket, the great Rahul Dravid, who is in the twilight zone of his dazzling career.
The young man from Rajkot, who has made a habit of scoring triple centuries in domestic cricket, has all the qualities required for carrying forward the legacy of Dravid- he is technically precise and has the patience to play marathon innings in the longer format of the game.
In his first-class career so far, he has already scored three triple tons which speaks volumes about the man who, when in touch, seems to know no stopping.
Pujara, however, doesn’t want to complicate his approach to the game. A solid batsman with a sound technique and tremendous temperament, however, puts his ability to scoring big innings down to the simple fact of ‘not getting out’.
Despite having scored heavily in first-class cricket, he was not at all anxious about getting a national call. "After performing in every season, I was confident that one day I would get chance to play for the country," the youngster said.
Looking at his career so far, one gets the feeling that Pujara is rightly being called the run-machine. Ever since he learnt the art of willow wielding, it’s scoring runs that ultimately goads him on.
History of Test cricket shows us that great players don’t like to throw away their wicket when they are well-set. Steve Waugh described cricket as a one-ball game. However, it’s the ability to concentrate hours after hours that sets greats apart from their ordinary counterparts. Ask Gavaskar, Sobers, Lara, Sachin, Dravid, or for that matter, any of the greats, and they will tell you that they hated getting out when they had successfully weathered away the initial jitters at the crease.
A player from a lesser known Saurashtra Ranji team, Pujara showed this immense talent from the very early years. He started hitting triple tons at the age of 13, hammering an unbeaten 306 against Baroda at an under-14 tournament. Then at Under-19 World Cup in 2006, he fetched man of the series award by amassing 349 in the tournament.
In 2007-08 Ranji season, he scored more than 800 runs, which earned him `Most Promising Youngster of the Year` award. But it was in the 2008-09 season that he set domestic cricket on fire by scoring three triple tons and more than 900 Ranji runs. In fact, his emergence as a superb batsman played a huge role in Saurashtra’s recent success story in the domestic circuit, without the best of facilities at their disposal.
Pujara, however, does not like comparisons with Rahul Dravid. "It is silly that a man, who has been playing for the country for more than a decade and scored over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game, is being compared with someone who is yet to play a match for India," said Pujara.
For a player, who learnt the nuances of cricket from his Ranji playing father Arvind, whose ambition of playing for the nation never got fulfilled, and who lost his mother early in his life, Pujara knows enough that life, as it turns out to be, is not always rosy.
When most of the boys of his age-group like to enjoy life outside the strict routine, Pujara, having already known the flip side of the life, just wants to concentrate on the task at hand. His approach to life is a testimony to the fact that his batting has not been corrupted in spite of the T20 revolution. So, when people call him as the ‘Next Big Thing of Indian cricket’, he remains calm and composed. “I am pleased that my performances are being talked about, but I am not getting ahead of myself,” says the seemingly mature lad.
It seems that he knows the cases of Vinod Kumbli, Amol Muzumdar, Ajay Sharma, Brijesh Patel and Vikram Rathore, who despite having shown promise early, somehow could not carry their domestic heroics to the international level.