Photographs: BCCI Bikash Mohapatra
After impressive scores against New Zealand, Australia and West Indies on docile Indian conditions, Cheteshwar Pujara will adapt well and prove himself on the challenging tracks of South Africa, Niranjan Shah tells Bikash Mohapatra.
The last time Team India toured South Africa (in 2010-11), Cheteshwar Pujara was a rookie.
Having impressed in the lone Test he played, scoring a 72 against the visiting Australian side, he was drafted in as part of the touring party.
However, his inexperience in the alien conditions was exposed and he managed just 31 runs in the two Tests he played.
Three years on, even as Team India prepare to take on the hosts in the opening Test at the New Wanderers, Pujara has 15 matches under his belt (averages 65) and has cemented his place in the team.
In the four series he has featured in following that forgettable showing in South Africa, the 25-year-old has scored runs galore in each. Be it against New Zealand -- 216 runs in two Tests (@72), England -- 438 runs in four Tests (@87.60), Australia -- 419 runs in four matches (@83.80) or the recent series against the West Indies -- 130 runs in two matches (@65), Pujara has underlined his credentials as a reliable batsman.
Having said that, his failure in South Africa meant he wasn’t considered for the subsequent tours to England and Australia, Team India’s last two overseas trips.
This two-Test series, therefore, offers him a chance of retribution, to prove that he is as adept playing in the seaming conditions overseas as he is on the docile tracks in India.
'He has the right amount of patience as well the appetite for big scores'
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images Bikash Mohapatra
There are many who believe the young batsman will come out with flying colours.
“South Africa will be a big test for him (Pujara). But he will cope with it,” says senior administrator Niranjan Shah, who has observed Pujara evolve as a batsman -- the youngster represents Saurashtra in the domestic competition.
“He has the right amount of patience (for Tests) as well the appetite for big scores,” adds Shah. And to drive home his point the veteran mentions Pujara already has three “triple hundreds in first class cricket.”
What bodes well for Pujara is his current form. The 25-year-old has, in three of his last four innings, surpassed the three-figure mark. The last time he batted, against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy, Pujara scored a magnificent 269. It was his ninth double hundred in first class cricket.
Among the Indian batsmen, only Vijay Merchant (11), Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Hazare and Rahul Dravid (10 each) have hit more first-class double-centuries.
More importantly, prior to the home series against the West Indies last month, Pujara toured South Africa, as part of the India ‘A’ team, to try and get used to the conditions, keeping in mind this series.
'He's definitely going to do well this time'
Photographs: BCCI Bikash Mohapatra
To his credit he adapted quite well, scoring a solid 137 in Rustenburg and following it up with a 54 in Pretoria.
For Shah though, it is not the statistics but the mindset that will hold Pujara in good stead in the upcoming Tests.
“He has a temperament like that of Sunny’s (Sunil Gavaskar),” reasons Shah, adding, “He now has the ability to adapt better.
“He’s definitely going to do well this time.”
With all the experienced batsmen having retired Team India will be looking at its young batting unit to deliver the goods.
And no one in this Indian team personifies patience more than Pujara. His performance will be crucial for India’s overall prospects against South Africa.