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Why Pujara will not go the Kambli way

Last updated on: March 7, 2013 16:41 IST

Why Pujara will not go the Kambli way

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Just by the numbers alone, Cheteshwar Pujara's feats in Test cricket match the ascent of two flamboyant batsmen who shone briefly, before fading into oblivion.

Haresh Pandya, who knows 'Chintu' Pujara well, explains why the Saurashtra batsman will not end up like Lawrence Rowe and Vinod Kambli.

The mercurial Lawrence Rowe and the flamboyant Vinod Kambli appeared on the Test firmament with a bang.

The West Indian hit 214 and 100 not out in his first Test against New Zealand at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, in February 1972. After a moderate series against Australia, the Jamaican devastated the Englishmen in the Caribbean and scored 120, 302 and 125 in his 8th, 9th and 10th Tests.

It was the high noon of Rowe's prowess and the world was at his feet.

But Rowe looked a shadow of himself away from the West Indies, particularly after the eye problem that afflicted him from the tour of India in 1974-1975, though he scored an audacious 107 against Australia with his team in trouble and Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee and Gary Gilmour firing on all cylinders at Brisbane in November 1975.

Rowe, who essayed a couple of stirring centuries in Kerry Packer's highly competitive, cutting age World Series Cricket against those Australian and other feared fast bowlers, did not have a regular place in the West Indies side and figured in only 30 Tests.

His genius was such he should have played 100 Tests.

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Image: For Cheteshwar Pujara, cricket is a religion and batting worship, says Haresh Pandya
Photographs: Adrian Murrell/Getty Images
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With back-to-back double tons, Kambli triggered great expectations

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Vinod Kambli even outshone his school-mate Sachin Tendulkar for a while.

The southpaw scored 224 against England at Mumbai in February 1993 in what was only his third Test.

Then in his next Test, Kambli hit another double hundred -- a sparkling 227 -- against Zimbabwe in Delhi the following month.

With back-to-back double centuries, he triggered great expectations and was hailed as the hottest property in Indian cricket.

Alas! Kambli began to take things for granted.

While he enjoyed life to the fullest off the field, fast bowlers exploited his weakness against short, rising deliveries. He just could not recapture that early magic and the rest of his career is a tragic anti-climax.

He made as many as nine comebacks, but could not become a regular member of the the Indian team.

But what a batsman!

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Image: Vinod Kambli
Photographs: Tom Shaw/All Sport/Getty Images
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'Pujara was one of the few Indian batsmen who looked like he belonged'

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Chintu -- as Cheteshwar is affectionately called by family and friends -- has scored two double centuries in his first 11 Tests, in addition to innings of 159 and 135.

With his immense potential and insatiable appetite for runs, he has understandably raised expectations of a cricket-crazy nation.

At the same time, concerns are being expressed by some people if he could thwart his promise and end up like Kambli.

Having followed Chintu's cricket since he learned to hold the bat and known him from close quarters, I can say with certainty that he is unlikely to go the Kambli way.

Cricket-wise, he is a far batter batsman than Kambli ever was.

He is technically very sound and mentally very tough, qualities both Rowe and Kambli lacked.

While Kambli was vulnerable against hostile fast bowling on green tops, Pujara relishes batting against any attack anywhere in the world.

In the two Tests he played in South Africa in 2010-2011, though he did not score too many runs, the way he handled Dale Steyn and the other fast bowlers was much appreciated.

"Pujara was very impressive on that tour," says the legendary Gundappa Viswanath. "He was one of the few Indian batsmen who looked like he belonged."

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Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
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Pujara remains the same humble, god-fearing soul I have known

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Chintu Pujara is a cool and composed customer even after a stirring performance. While Kambli seemed to become a different person after those two double hundreds, the 25-year-old from my native Rajkot remains the same humble, god-fearing soul I have known a long time.

He scored an unbeaten 206 in the first Test against England in Ahmedabad and played an even better innings of 135 in adversity on a treacherous Wankhede stadium wicket in the next Test at Mumbai.

His innings of 204 against Australia in Hyderabad came on the heels of his marriage on February 13. His wife Puja was in the VIP stand, applauding and cheering Chintu's every shot.

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Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
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'Adversity brings the best out of him'

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In his maiden Test against Australia at Bangalore in October 2010, Chintu helped India chase 207 with a very attractive and responsible 72 off just 89 balls, after his team had lost Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay.

There was no trace of nervousness; what was evident was tremendous self-confidence as he guided India to a famous win, batting first with Vijay and then with the maestro Tendulkar.

"I've played a lot of cricket with Chintu, but I've never seen him nervous even in difficult situations," says veteran Saurashtra batsman Sitanshu Kotak.

"In fact, adversity brings the best out of him."

"Even if his team is in trouble," says Kotak, "Chintu never curbs his natural game. If the ball is loose and deserves punishment, he will definitely go for his shots. He is so sure of his defence, attack and, more important, his off-stump."

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Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
Photographs: BCCI
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'Batting is a sadhna for him'

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For one so young, Chintu Pujara is steeped in tradition.

If cricket is a religion for him, batting is worship for him. He is extremely religious and despite his schedule, never forgets to perform his puja and say his prayers.

All this, plus regular meditation, helps Chintu in his concentration on and off the field.

Off the field, I know he does not like partying or indulging in activities youngsters his age are usually prone to.

"Cricket, more specifically batting, is a sadhna for Chintu," says his uncle, Bipin Pujara, a former Ranji Trophy player. "I can tell you he will never do anything that may distract him and lead to his ruin. No, he isn't that sort of a boy."

"I know he doesn't like to go to noisy parties. When he was with the Kolkata Knight Riders, it was compulsory for all members of the team to attend parties, but Chintu asked the team management to excuse him, and I know his request was granted."

Chintu won't rest on his initial laurels and will surely conquer the cricketing world in style with his wand-like willow.


Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
Photographs: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images
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