September 29, 2022

Cheteshwar Pujara: India Tour of South Africa: Cheteshwar Pujara’s place in the eleven is becoming more and more untenable

Anyone who has owned a car, usually the first, knows how much history unfolds. First there is excitement, a sense of empowerment, and a newness and joy to this thing that works beautifully.

As a few years pass and newer, shinier models hit the market, it feels like we could have waited a little longer and done better.

Then comes the stage where ongoing repairs just aren’t worth the cost and effort, but you cling to a sense of nostalgia.

And finally, when you have to go to an important place, on a rainy day, the vehicle stops and you have no choice but to bite the bullet.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s career is at this final stage. If he hasn’t before, you can be sure Virat Kohli now feels buyer’s remorse.

On day one of the second Test at the Wanderers, Pujara poked, poked and poked his way to three runs on 32 balls before fending off the 33rd. The ball, hit in the bridge by Duanne Olivier, bounced a little more than expected, took the shoulder of the bat and flew to the point for a simple reception.

It was a convenient delivery on a field that had something for bowlers, but it was by no means unplayable, or even one Pujara was expected to play on. This has been the problem with Pujara in the recent past.

It was not a lack of intention that was the problem. It wasn’t the scoring rate, something unnecessarily pointed out in the past, that caused problems.

The problem was twofold. At the start of his innings, Pujara pushes forward, beats in front of the pad, not allowing the ball to come to him. Playing the waiting game was one of Pujara’s strengths, but for reasons the hitter and his coaches may know, it let him down.

The second issue is that Pujara retired, rather than being picked by exceptional bowling.

At Centurion, Pujara threw the first pitch, in the opening innings, rushing forward and throwing a catch to the field near the side of the leg. In the second inning, Pujara tried to play one that slid nicely down the leg and gave the wicket-keeper an advantage.

Since his last Test century, against Australia in January 2019, Pujara has played 26 Tests and 45 innings with a high score of 91 at an average of 26.86. The saving grace is that he scored 11 half-centuries in the span, but to not convert any of those into a really big score is a blemish.

You could say Ajinkya Rahane is in the same boat, and you wouldn’t be far off. Except Rahane has this exceptional century in Australia and led the team to a sensational victory, in the recent pages of his CV. And the brilliant 48 of the last Test could have bought him one more Test.

Logically, India, in its transition, should omit one of these two, bring in new legs, and then phase out the second, if necessary.

The simple thing to do, when Kohli returns to the XI for the third Test, is to bench Pujara, move Hanuma Vihari to No.3 and play Shreyas Iyer at No.6.

With India crashing and burning in the early innings, there may well be one last chance for Pujara to redeem himself. However, it will take something special to restore the faith that has been sorely tried for far too long now.