Indian middle order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara's stellar knock of 119 in India's first innings was pivotal in India sealing victory against England in the second Test at Vishakapatnam.
Cheteshwar Pujara's purple patch with the bat in the ongoing Test series against England has once again thrown up the debate as to whether Pujara can be the heir apparent to India's legendary batsman Rahul Dravid as India's batting lynch-pin in Test cricket.
Indian cricket was well served for almost two decades by the technical genius Rahul Dravid who stood rock- solid as a wall of the Indian team's middle order by stringing up stellar performances with the willow with amazing consistency.
After the Karnataka batting maestro bid adieu to the game, India has been constantly looking for an apt replacement to fill in Dravid's big shoes. One name which has been constantly doing the rounds both among both the selectors and the fans at large has been that of Cheteshwar Pujara.
In Test cricket, every batting lineup likes to have a 'number three' batsman in its ranks who acts the lynch-pin of their batting and hold the innings together when the flamboyant stroke-players make merry.
The 'number three' position in international cricket is hailed as a critical one as it sets the tone to how the the middle order shall fare if the team suffers early blows. The 'number three' safeguards the teams position if any early wicket falls and holds fort in middle to stitch up the innings. In batting friendly conditions, the number three usually assumes the role of a sheet anchor and lets the flamboyant stroke-makers accelerate the scoring rate.
If we go down memory lane, all teams who dominated test cricket had a solid number three batsman who played the role of a run accumulator to perfection. If the Windies had Sir Vivian Richards in their hey-days, the Australian had Sir Donald Bradman and Ricky Ponting as part of their golden era, the Proteas had Jaques Kallis and India had their very own 'Wall' Rahul Dravid among the 'Fab-Five' in the Ganguly-Wright period.
A glance at Cheteshwar Pujara's Test career
Pujara built a reputation of sorts for scoring mammoth hundreds for his state side Saurashtra in Ranji Trophy before knocking on the doors of the Indian Test team.
He made a promising start to his Test career by scoring a century against the Kiwis at home in 2012. Pujara proved his mantle in Test cricket by scoring scoring double centuries against Australia and England at home. He made the number three position his own by emerging as the highest run scorer against the Proteas in 2013Ind-SA Test series in South Africa.
An extended lull with the bat on the overseas tour of England raised some questions about his technical competency against the seaming ball. After being left out of the Indian team due to lack of form and injury woes, Pujara has made a resounding comeback against England by scoring centuries in successive matches at Rajkot and Vizag.
Where does Pujara rank in his pursuit of becoming the next Dravid
Pujara' batting style has drawn comparisons to the great Rahul Dravid. Pujara like Dravid has a rock solid defence and a well organised technique which are the key ingredients to succeed in Test cricket.
Pujara has loads of patience and is willing to occupy the crease for long periods and grind the opposition's bowling attack, an art which Dravid mastered with relative ease.
However, there is one striking difference between how Rahul Dravid fared through his career and how Pujara has done so far. Dravid was a master at adapting to the hostile conditions around the world and saved many a matches for India when the team was in a spot of bother facing quality seam attacks.
Pujara in his career so far has been prolific at home but struggled to replicate his form in overseas seamer friendly conditions. Pujara also has some chinks in his batting armour as far as playing the short pitch delivery goes. He does not look too comfortable while pulling or hooking and needs to work on this technical flaw of his game.
What do his numbers in Test cricket reveal
Pujara has been fabulous in his career so far and his staggering record in Test cricket are testimony to the same. He became the fifth joint fastest Indian batsman to cross the 3000 run mark in Test cricket and that speaks volumes of his prolific run scoring ability. He has been consistent and racked up 10 Test tons in 40 Test matches.
But if one closely analysis his career, he has been prolific at home but his mediocre overseas batting record does not do justice to the immense potential he has with the willow.
With the likes of Rahane and Kohli proving to be elegant strokemakers in the Test team who lend impetus to the middle order, Pujara has his task cut out to don the team's sheet anchors role.He has definitely come of age in the ongoing Test series but it has to be seen whether he can sustain this performance over a period of time like the great Rahul Dravid. If so, it shall auger well for Indian Test cricket.