The Silent Assassin: Cheteshwar Pujara’s Prolific 2016-17 First-Class Season So Far
While other narratives and performances dominated the headlines during the one-off India-Bangladesh Test in Hyderabad, what you might have missed on the fourth ball of the 51st over of the match was Cheteshwar Pujara’s belligerent off drive that got him past Chandu Borde’s record for the most runs in an Indian first-class season. What’s more notable about this feat is the fact that the Saurashtra batsman was dropped from the national Test team not too long ago.
So piling on this heap of runs is not just an illustration of Pujara’s abilities but also establishes him as one of the most important players in the current Indian setup. He has so far scored 1,724 runs in 15 matches this season at an average of 86.2 with four more test matches to play against Australia, starting from February 23 in Pune. The previous record-holder Chandu Borde had scored 1,604 runs in 21 matches at an average of 64.16 in the 1964-1965 season. More importantly, Pujara’s unassailable performance has put an end to India’s woes for the number three spot in the batting order, once acquired by the legendary Rahul Dravid.
Pujara, who experienced a great start to his career during 2012-13, was criticised for his inconsistency; and a string of low scores in 2014 and 2015 didn’t help either. He had scored 830 runs at an average of 30.74 in 15 test matches and managed to reach triple figures only once in 28 innings during these two wretched years. For a number three batsman, the stats were uncompromising and saw Pujara’s omission from the squad.
During his 159-ball 46 against the West Indies on his comeback last year, Pujara was asked by his captain Virat Kohli and the coach Anil Kumble to score runs at a better strike rate. It was quite evident that the times of failure in international cricket still occupied Pujara’s mind. He looked to stay at the crease and bat for hours without an intention to score runs, which drew further criticism.
After scoring 46 and 16 in the two test matches on that tour, Pujara’s selection for India’s long home season looked dubious.
But, his 166 and 31 playing for India Blue in the Duleep Trophy, followed by a match-winning unbeaten 256 against India Green in the tournament’s final left the selectors with few better options for the three-match Test series against New Zealand. In the first test match at Kanpur, Pujara’s 62 and 78 helped India set up the 197-run victory. In the next outing at Kolkata, Virat Kohli’s decision to bat first almost backfired after the loss of three early wickets with the score at just 46. But Pujara had other ideas and along with the Ajinkya Rahane, put on a 141-run stand for the third wicket to help India get out of trouble, which they ultimately won by 178 runs. In the last match of the series, at Indore, Pujara reached to his seventh test century with an aggressive 101* off 148 balls in the second innings that allowed India to set New Zealand 475 runs to win. India won the match by a huge margin of 321 runs and eventually the series 3-0. Pujara was the top run getter in the series with 373 runs at an average of 74.60 and suddenly things started looking like they had never been wrong.
In his only Ranji Trophy outing this season, Pujara missed out on a hundred against Maharashtra when he was dismissed for 93 by the left-armed medium fast bowler Mohsin Sayyed. The match eventually ended in a draw but his consistency ensured Cheteshwar Pujara as an obvious choice for number three role in the five-match home series against England. A series which India won 4-0 and was purely dominated by Virat Kohli for his 655 runs; but Cheteshwar Pujara was the silent assassin with 401 runs at an average of 50.12, second best only to the flamboyant Indian skipper. His key contributions included a 124 in the first test match at Rajkot followed by an excellent 119 runs at Vishakhapatnam. Pujara, along with Kohli, put on 226 runs for the third wicket, which was instrumental in India’s strong first innings total. In the third test at Mohali, Pujara scored his third consecutive 50-plus score and was out for 25 chasing 103 in the final innings.
Things got even better for Pujara in 2017 as he was the only batsman to get past 50 (86) in the first innings of the Irani Trophy final against Gujarat. Chasing 379, Rest of India were hobbling at 63 for 4 but Cheteshwar Pujara teamed up with Indian Test keeper Wriddhiman Saha to put on a record unbeaten 316 run-stand for the fifth wicket to win the Irani Trophy. Cheteshwar Pujara scored his 37th First Class hundred and Wriddhiman Saha remained unbeaten on 203, which was his first double hundred in First Class Cricket.
In the recently concluded one-off Test against Bangladesh, Pujara continued his stupendous form with a gritty 83 in the first innings followed by an quick-fire 58-ball 54 in the second innings to set up India’s 208 run-win.
The only downside to Che’s game from the critic’s point of view has been his habit of getting out in the 70’s that has seen him fail to convert seven hundreds so far. In this home season, Pujara averages 65.78 in 9 test matches and has scored 921 runs. While Pujara will look to make the most of this form against the Kangaroos, the Aussies will definitely be coming with a plan for him. We’re definitely looking forward to this battle.
Stats & Facts:
- Holds the record for most runs in a season with 1724 runs
- He was involved in a record unbeaten partnership of 316 with Wriddhiman Saha while chasing 379 in Irani Cup finals against Gujarat
- He was involved in 5 hundred plus stands with Murali Vijay which are the most by an Indian pair in a single season
- In the Duleep Trophy final between Indian Blue and India Red, Pujara became the first batsman to score a double hundred with pink ball. He remained unbeaten on 256
- With 10 double hundreds, he is 2nd in the list of most First Class double hundreds along with Vijay Merchant.