Three distinct facets about life can never be turned away from or denied. First is time. The other being inevitability. Then finally: the downfall. And to get a sense of the three, it so happens that there comes a time where the downfall is the only inevitable.
To give a context, if you have the slightest of awareness of the travails India’s #3, Cheteshwar Pujara is facing, you couldn’t be doubted for thinking that the inevitable is here.
There comes a time in life where one finds himself on the edge, the point beyond which lies the fall. In cricketing parlance, it’s called the drop. And if you are Cheteshwar Pujara, that’s the ugly truth of life you don’t want to be facing.
The drop. The axe. Call it whatever. It doesn’t matter. Time is running out. And at 33, Cheteshwar Pujara isn’t getting any younger.
But again, that’s the inevitable, unless something drastically different happens in the third inning of the ongoing Lord’s Test, something like seeing snow during monsoons.
Such a thing, however, can happen in fairytales, but in real Test match cricket- maybe not so much. It’s not because Cheteshwar Pujara- nearly 6,300 Test runs, 18 centuries and 29 fifties- cannot score a ton. Not even that Pujara, against whom there rests a behemoth of a world record of facing no fewer than 521 runs to score a Test double ton (2016-17 Australia tour), cannot save his career.
Reality bites hard at times. Truth is, there hangs over Cheteshwar Pujara the invisible sword of pressure and a distinct lack of form. When the two combine forces, the pressure is lethal. It’s pretty much what is happening with one of India’s most technically proficient batsmen, albeit one whose technique has been blunted by things like the peach of a delivery that plotted his downfall for merely 9 at Lord’s.
The Pujara that Anderson (much older than one of Saurashtra’s greatest-ever cricketer) is getting the better off isn’t the Pujara one saw back in 2018. The-then 30-year-old was a fluid scorer. Even though he took his time, he kept the scorecard ticking. When the boundaries didn’t come, he confined himself to the singles.
Make no mistake. Even back then, despite not playing the first Test of the 2018 series, Pujara took his time to open the account, a problem, which today has exacerbated his owes in that he’s simply not batting long enough or lasting long enough, regardless of how you read it to make some assessment around.
The first thing that strikes the Pujara of 2021 is when and how might he get off the mark. For in several occasions in the past, he’s put himself under pressure by taking one delivery too many to get going. Even that was fine provided he’d have compiled a strong enough score. Your nastiest of critics can forgive you for scoring even if you did so taking a painfully long time. Such a scenario doesn’t help Cheteshwar Pujara’s non-striker, who would hope that the right-hander’s solidity- not frigidity- can be depended on and one can play his natural game.
As a matter of fact, it doesn’t help Pujara himself, who puts increased pressure on his own self the longer he takes time to get going.
Just to give an example, his last five Test scores read- 9, 12 not out, 4, 15 and 8. Failures against England and a marked failure in either inning of the World Test Championship didn’t help his cause.
In 2018, we saw a different creature at the middle. Playing the ball as late as possible and with soft hands, Pujara counter-attacked- and quietly so the storm emanating from a pace trio of Woakes, Anderson and Broad. Moreover, he could read fairly well the angled deliveries- both that came into him and those that targeted the quietest snick of the outside edge of the bat whilst moving away from the off stump.
Cricket isn’t just about making daddy hundreds in Tests; it’s also about leaving the ball. Some made it an art. Think Pointing. Think Dravid, the very man Pujara was to emulate, at least, from a fan-perspective.
Today, the Rajkot-born’s hero remains a mighty figure that is distant even in the prospect of imitation.
Once Rahul Dravid, during a difficult phase in Australia, took 40 deliveries to get going. But that was The Wall. He’d score 53 eventually batting for no fewer than 160 deliveries, that was when he came into open in both innings at the 2008 Sydney Test.
Pujara, who doesn’t even open and as seen at Lord’s didn’t have to soak up the pressure so as to be victimized at the crease, arrived in the middle not before the 44th over. His openers had done enough sowing of seeds, 126 runs for the first wicket, for Pujara to turn agricultural and produce a rich harvest. But he failed. And it was not for the first time.
The situation has come to a point and that’s unless the selectors continue to ignore the truth that Pujara’s occupying a spot that could well be utilized by another promising force, he’s as close to being dropped as is one to getting wet when stepping inside a pool.
The only man that can save Cheteshwar Pujara is the same bloke, who many moons ago, tamed the English attack in 2012-13 on his way to scoring 206 unbeaten runs, as he took India to a 9-wicket win (Ahmedabad).
And one can safely say India’s troubled right-hander knows that batsman better than anyone else. His name is Cheteshwar Arvind Pujara and all’s not well in his cricketing paradise.