‘When Rahul Dravid finished…’ : Ravi Shastri’s tracer bullet for Cheteshwar Pujara playing 100th Test

Think of the term No. 3 in Indian cricket, and only two names comes to mind – Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara. No two players have resonated with that batting position in Tests more than Dravid and Pujara, champions of their respective eras.

Think of the term No. 3 in Indian cricket, and only two names comes to mind – Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara. No two players have resonated with that batting position in Tests more than Dravid and Pujara, champions of their respective eras. Many have tried to cement that premium slot in the batting order, and some such as Gautam Gambhir, Navjot Sidhu, Virat Kohli, VVS Laxman have succeeded too – but no one in Tests has made a career out of it more than Dravid and Pujara. Hence, it was fitting that when the mighty Wall of Indian cricket retired, Pujara, a chip off the old block, was given that responsibility. 11 years later, he is on the verge of playing his 100th Test, playing 95 percent his cricket for India at the No. 3 position.

When Rahul Dravid finished
Ravi Shastri’s tracer bullet for Cheteshwar Pujara playing 100th Test

Of the 169 innings Pujara has played, he has batted at No. 3 a total of 148 times, scoring 6355 runs an at average of 45.07. Ravi Shastri, who has worked with Pujara in close quarters during his time as India’s head coach, paid a mammoth tribute to the great man as he reaches an incredible milestone in his career. While showing Pujara with heaps of praises, Shastri pointed out the one trait of the 34-year-old, which he feels stands head and shoulders above the rest.

“His contribution to Indian cricket is his ability to hold on to that No 3 position for such a long time. When Rahul Dravid finished, he had big boots to fill. To take that position and retain it for over a decade and 100 Tests is a tribute to his skills, ability and quality. Yes, he owned that place after Dravid’s retirement. One has to see the conditions before what is expected of a No 3. The strategy will differ from condition to condition and situation to situation. For someone to last that long and play 100 Test matches is an ample manifestation of the fact that he has been doing most things right,” Shastri told Cricbuzz.

While there have been instances when Shastri ran his patience out with Pujara for the pace at which he scored runs, the same stubbornness and determination is what separated the batter from his peers. Think of those three centuries during the 2018/19 Border-Gavaskar Trophy or the fighting 132 not out against England, where he waged a lone battle. Be it spin or pace, Pujara has marvelled against both. There came a period in Pujara’s career when he was getting troubled outside the off-stump but he came out of it stronger and even more fiercely determined.

“He is a quality batsman against spin bowling because he has played so much domestic cricket. For someone who has played 100 Tests, it is a proven quality. He has got runs in South Africa, England and Australia and the West Indies. He has got runs all over the world. What else do you want? He got a 100 and 90 in a Test in Bangladesh recently (in December last year in Chattogram). You must be remembering what the spinners had done to us in Bangladesh. He got runs everywhere,” added Shastri.

One of Pujara’s everlasting images in Shastri’s mind is the numerous blows he took on his body as India battled to save the Sydney Test. Pujara scored half-centuries on both innings of the Test match – 50 and 77 – but it was the latter knock that got immortalised in the pantheons of Indian cricket. Pujara was struck on the helmet, rapped on his gloves, took bullet-like deliveries from Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc to his body, almost putting himself on the firing line… all to make sure India did not lose. That is character, and something Shastri is mighty proud of as Pujara becomes only the 13th Indian cricketer to reach a century of Tests.

“I said then and I say this today, he is a warrior. For me he is my soldier, like I had said after the Gabba Test. He is a warrior. If India managed to create history by winning two series in Australia, Pujara had a massive role to play in those achievements. Massive. He is a quiet operator who can be lethal when needed. He has done yeoman service to Indian cricket and is a quintessential professional. Many congratulations to him on the 100th Test,” Shastri said while lauding Pujara.

Source : hindustantimes