India vs England: Cheteshwar Pujara showcases God-given talent with gritty century to silence doubters

Even by his own standards, Sanjay Manjrekar‘s tweet on Friday was a shocker: ‘Any kid thinking I don‘t have enough talent to make it, look at Pujara, that‘s your role model right there.‘

In the past Manjrekar, former Test cricketer and presently a commentator, has had a go at Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. But this tweet against the man who almost singlehandedly carried aloft India‘s flag on Friday was something else. If the tweet besmirched anybody‘s reputation it certainly was not that of Cheteshwar Pujara.

Cheteshwar Pujara in action on day two of the fourth Test. Reuters/Paul Childs

Not after the number three batsman had played out of his skin for his unbeaten 132 at the port city of Southampton. But for that knock and skipper Virat Kohli‘s 46, India‘s challenge in the series might well have folded up on the second day of the Test itself.

Pujara-bashers had their moment in the run-up to the series. They took his batting on wet, bowler-friendly pitches as the norm and ensured that he was dropped for the first Test. The fact that in one of the innings, his county Yorkshire was bowled out for 50 and that 22 wickets fell that one day was brushed under the carpet in the quest to drive an agenda. Pujara, thus, had to make way for batsmen who did not have half his courage or conviction. However, as the saying goes, you can‘t keep a good man down. Not for long anyway.

Conviction, talent, technique and determination were the need of the hour at the Ageas Bowl. The home team seemed to have gained the upper hand during the second half of the day before Pujara, as batting coach Sanjay Bangar aptly put it, “showed a lot of composure, clarity of thought and great discipline in an innings of caution and aggression” to wrest it right back.

Pujara‘s temperament, talent and fierce competitiveness should have been apparent in his career of 61 Tests during which he has scored 4767 runs including 15 centuries for a batting average of 50.71. But nit-pickers have their own beat to march to.

On Friday, Pujara was nothing short of magnificent. By the time he had grafted his way to 25 runs, it was apparent that he was in the zone. His footwork was flawless against pace and spin alike. On occasions, he danced down the pitch to off-spinner Moeen Ali to show that he lacked little in confidence or ability.

His Yorkshire skipper Joe Root tried to trap him into hooking. But Pujara weaved out of harm‘s way almost always. He was struck on the helmet while attempting to hook but the blows only firmed his resolve to thwart the attack.

Sadly, the rest of India‘s batting was abysmal. Kohli, of course, was the exception and his 92-run stand with Pujara threatened to take the match away from England. However, Ajinkya Rahane who looked unsure and lacking in confidence during his short stay where he also enjoyed a life, disappointed yet again.

None of the others — Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant — looked the part either. So much so, India slipped from the heights of 142 for two to 195 for eight. It was left to tailenders Ishant Sharma (14) and Jasprit Bumrah (6) to hang on and help Pujara add an invaluable 78 runs for the last two wickets.

The small but useful partnerships not only helped Pujara to register an outstanding century but also squeezed out a 27-run lead for the team. Sharma and Bumrah might not have had the batting credentials of a Rahane or Pandya. But they showed what grit, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness could achieve for the team‘s cause.

Virtually all the batsmen, barring Kohli and Pujara have played an insignificant role in the series, the odd knock of 50 notwithstanding. They need to show a lot more fight and character if India are to make the remaining three innings on the tour one of the most memorable in cricket history.

Pujara who had made a 50 in a winning cause on a very difficult pitch at Johannesburg earlier in the year once again showed that he had the tenacity and capacity to pull the team out of trouble. But the battle is far from over. India have to bat last and irrespective of the target that could be an onerous task on a wearing pitch.

Meanwhile, the Manjrekars of the world would do well to note that the ability to withstand pressure is also a talent. The confidence to keep a hostile bunch of opponents at bay is also a talent. To show grace and retain composure under fire is also a talent. If only other batsmen showed all these characteristics, like a Pujara and Kohli, the Indian team would be in a better place. Until then Manjrekar perhaps would do well to hail Pujara for the mastery he brought to the table at the Ageas Bowl on Friday.

Updated Date: Sep 01, 2018 10:55 AM

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