Mix it like Pujara

The divide between IPL and Test cricket may not be as unbridgeable as we thought

The English cricketers hadn't seen much of Cheteshwar Pujara before the start of the series. By the end of the first Test, the tourists must be wishing they hadn't been forced to have their fill of him. Batting for nearly 10 hours to score a total of 247 runs, Pujara was the main Indian batting act in both innings. In fact, he never really left the central square. While fielding, a close-in catcher, he stared at the English batsmen from close quarters. And in the end, as he walked off with the Man of the Match award, the visitors were wiser about the rival team's strength and their new number three batsman.

It was a discovery for the hosts too. Pujara's double hundred, two months after his 159 against New Zealand, was the reassurance that astute voices and seasoned eyes wait for before passing the verdict on rookies. The word is out now: the 24-year-old's batting approach is a throwback to an era when cricketers fashioned sideburns and wore hand-stitched flowing flannels. When scoring his unbeaten 206 at Ahmedabad, Pujara hit 21 fours, one less than Sunil Gavaskar when he scored his first double hundred. Here was a rare IPL-generation cricketer cut out for the Tests.

Pujara is a mix of intriguing contrasts. Busy but not hurried, aggressive but not careless, young but mature. At the end of six career Tests, he averages 71. There have been younger Indian batsmen who have had better numbers at the start of their careers. Vinod Kambli was yet to turn 21 and had already scored two Test double hundreds and averaged well over 100 after his first 6 Tests. So in Pujara's case, the restrained and the reliable are merely celebrating the rise of a special talent. Is he the "Next Wall" or Rahul Dravid 2.0? The judgement is expected after a couple of testing away tours.

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