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Cheteshwar Pujara not ‘The Wall’ but a ‘Road Roller’ who has often blunted the Australian challenge

Border Gavaskar Trophy 2023: Cheteshwar Pujara not ‘The Wall’ but a ‘Road Roller’ who has often blunted the Australian challenge. Top five innings of Cheteshwar Pujara against Australia.

Cheteshwar Pujara has been brilliant against Australia in Tests | Walking Wicket (Images: ©cheteshwar1/Twitter)
Pujara averages 52.77 against Australia from 21 Tests (Images: ©cheteshwar1/Twitter)

Cheteshwar Pujara is arguably one of the best batters India has ever produced in Test cricket and the 35-year-old is approaching a major milestone in his illustrious red-ball career for India. India’s number three is all set to become only the 13th player to represent the country in 100 or more Test matches. The previous Indian to register this landmark was former India skipper Virat Kohli.

Pujara relishes playing against Australia; has scored 1900 runs in 21 Tests against them

Pujara made his Test debut in Bengaluru against what would be his favourite opponents over the course of his career, Australia, in 2010 as a 22-year-old youngster. His talent was always there to see for everyone who witnessed him at the domestic level, but his resolute approach and no-nonsense approach was clearly visible in his very first Test match. Pujara was promoted up the order during India’s chase of 207 and the right-hander top-scored for the team with a 89-ball 72. This helped India seal the game and this knock gave a sense of hope that Pujara was indeed worthy to be considered a successor to India’s ‘Wall’ Rahul Dravid, who incidentally was part of that Bengaluru Test match.

Cheteshwar Pujara is a batter who comes across as a traditionalist playing the modern game. He is someone who relishes on batting long hours in Test cricket in the mould of India’s current coach Rahul Dravid. Puji, as he is fondly called, is known to bat time, blunt out even the best of bowling attacks and then takes advantage once the bowling team gets tired or devoid of ideas. His stubbornness allows batters around him to pile up runs and if the situation is grim then with Pujara at the crease, more often than not India have seen light at the end of the tunnel.

But there are times when there were criticisms hurled at Pujara, especially for his approach with the bat. Despite the fact that Pujara stays at the crease much longer than the others, according to several observers, Pujara maintains a below-par strike rate which amounts to 44.44. They argue that such a strike rate is significantly lower in modern Test cricket and in turn puts pressure on other batters at the crease leading to loss of wickets at the other end. This argument does seem valid as we have seen on occasions, Pujara’s slow scoring makes the bowling attack look more potent than it really is. He has a strike rate in the 40s against SENA nations [South Africa (42.81), England (43.47), New Zealand (42.06), Australia (42.38)].

However, Test cricket is a game of patience and there will be situations where there is a need to dig in and that is how Pujara plays his cricket. This method of batting has brought him the bulk of his 7021 runs from 99 Tests at an average of 44.15 with 19 centuries. He has been specially brutal against the Aussies as he averages an impressive 52.77 against the Kangaroos, scoring a whopping 1900 runs from 21 Tests against them. He played a huge part in India’s twin historic wins in Australia (2018-19 & 2020-22) and made truck load of runs against the same opponents at home. Pujara has made 1778 runs against England which is the second-most by him against an opposition.

Pujara certainly may not be ‘The Wall’, but a ‘Road Roller’ who bulldozed the Australian challenge at Chinnaswamy Stadium in 2017, JSCA Stadium in 2017, Adelaide Oval in 2018, Sydney Cricket Ground in 2019 and eased the path for Shubman Gill & Rishabh Pant in India’s epochal triumph at The Gabba in 2021.

On this note, we present to you Pujara’s five best Test performances against the reigning number 1 ranked Test team ahead of this monumental occasion for India’s silent match-winner and Mr. Dependable.

92 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in 2017

Cheteshwar Pujara proved his worth on what was a testing Bangalore wicket in the second Test of Border Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17. Already trailing by 0-1, India gave away an 87-run lead in the first innings after scoring just 189 runs batting first out of which KL Rahul alone made 90. The second essay too saw a similar story where India were possibly a wicket away, placed at 120-4, from enduring a collapse and giving complete control of the match to the visitors.

But Pujara (92) withstood a rampaging Aussie pace-spin attack in an 118-run match and series-defining partnership along with then vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane who made 52. This is perhaps one of Pujara’s best knocks in clutch situations and sometimes a match-winning half-century is more important than a big century which he has himself ratified on a fe occasions while speaking to the media. India eventually gained a 187-run lead giving Australia a target of 188 to make it 2-0.

India’s bowlers, especially Ravichandran Ashwin was too hot to handle for the visitors as he returned 6/41 and bowled out Australia for a mere 112.

202 (525) at the JSCA, Ranchi 2017

In the same 2016-17 BGT, Pujara produced yet another masterful display against the Aussies, this time in Ranchi. With the series levelled at 1-1, Australia posted a huge 451 batting first and reduced India to 328-6 at one stage eyeing a significant lead. But Pujara held fort and along with wicketkeeper-batter Wriddhiman Saha (117) piled up a huge 199-run partnership for the seventh wicket.

In the process, Pujara reached his third double century (second against Australia) and help India amass 603-9d in the first innings. Though the game ended in a draw, this sizeable lead helped India exert pressure back on the Aussies.

Cheteshwar Pujara driving the ball on off side; top five test innings of Pujara against Australia _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©cheteshwar1_Twitter)
Pujara struck 123 in Adelaide Test on 2018 tour (Images: ©cheteshwar1/Twitter)

123 (246) at the Adelaide Oval, 2018

This knock set the tone of the series for India in that historic duel down under in 2018-19. This was the tour where the Virat Kohli-led side became the first Asian side to win a Test series in Australia. Going into the series, Australia sans David Warner and Steve Smith, were the underdogs for a change and this was possibly India’s best chance to win in Australia.

However, Australia still had a potent bowling attack and the ever talked about their fighting spirit was on display on the first morning of the first Test in Adelaide, where Australia’s bowlers bowled with great discipline. They reduced India to 41-4 and then to 127-6, and India were staring at an early finish to the innings.

But Pujara had other ideas as he slammed his 16th Test ton, quite possibly his best ever in this format for India. He batted well with the lower-order to extend the total to 250. India eventually gained a slender 15-run lead and Pujara yet again top-scored in the second essay with 71 to set the hosts a target of 323.

India eventually won by 31 runs and Pujara was rightfully adjudged the player of the match.

193 (373) at the SCG, 2019

Cheteshwar Pujara was having a dream series down under in 2018-19. After a match-winning 123 in Adelaide, the right-hander made yet another century in the Boxing Day Test which proved to be integral for India’s victory there.

As the teams moved to the final Test at the SCG, the best batting surface of the tour, Pujara as expected was at his absolute best. He played out overs, sessions and days in his epic knock of 193 in the first innings as India posted a mammoth 622/7d.

India were in a great position to win the series 3-1 after dismissing Australia for 300 and enforcing the follow on, but rain played spoilsport in the proceedings. But one can’t take anything away from Pujara who top-scored in the series with 521 runs at an average of a shade above 74, with three centuries against possibly one of the best bowling attacks at that time.

56 (211) at the Gabba, 2021

Another knock that showed the immense importance that Pujara, the batter brings to this Indian Test team. This wasn’t a big century but it was a catalyst for one of the most significant episodes and wins for India in their Test history.

Quite possibly, in India’s greatest ever Test series win away from home, Pujara’s 56 was as invaluable as Pant’s 89* or Gill’s 91 in India’s incredible successful chase of 328 to breach the Gabba fortress.

Pujara sustained multiple body blows on a wearing fifth day pitch during his marathon 211-ball stay at the crease. He resisted the best that Australia had to offer and this allowed Gill at first, and later Pant to take advantage to steer India to achieve the near impossible feat. India won the game by three wickets and clinched the series down under 2-1 for the second time in a row.

These are only of some of the stunning displays from Pujara that we got to witness over the course of his 13-year illustrious career for India in Test cricket. This has been one incredible journey for Pujara thus far, and his 100th Test in Delhi from February 17 will just pave the path for many achievements to follow from the bat of the unassumed star of Indian cricket.

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