India vs New Zealand Test series: Time for Pujara to silence his growing critics

For more than a decade of Test cricket, Cheteshwar Pujara has enjoyed the reputation of being Indiaโ€™s ‘go-to’ man in crisis.

More as a match-saver than as a match-winner, Pujara has often lent stability to the innings and brought in a sense of assurance in the dressing room when things were not exactly going Indiaโ€™s way.

His Test record speaks for itself. With an average of over 50 against Australia in 20 Tests is the fact that underlines his class. With highest scores of 193 in Australia, 153 in South Africa and 132 not out in England, Pujara has proved himself.

After 90 Tests and an average of 45.41 across 152 innings, Pujara is now beginning to feel the heat from those trying to break into the Indian Test team.

Since scoring his last Test century, a masterly 193 against Australia in Sydney in 2019, Pujara has 11 fifties in 38 innings. Some of these knocks were hailed for their value in saving India the blushes.

But the pressure is mounting on Pujara to show โ€˜intentโ€™ to play more strokes. Many ex-players and commentators have voiced their displeasure over Pujaraโ€™s sustained, strokeless batting that allows bowlers to dominate him.

In the words of Brian Lara, “if I was the coach and if I was one of those who wanted Pujara to improve, I would have prepared a lot of shots and asked him to score runs at a higher strike rate which would help him and the team as well.”

Pujara is well aware of what he needs to do. But true to his style he said on Tuesday, โ€œYou don’t need to put too much pressure on yourself and just try and go there and enjoy the game rather than worrying too much about whatโ€™s going around.โ€

He did accept that his last two scores of 50+ – 91 at Leeds and 61 at the Oval this year – were results of his intent to score at a faster pace. Looking ahead, Pujara assured, โ€œSo far, preparation has been good and experiences of playing in Indian conditions will help in the
next couple of Tests.โ€

With Virat Kohli not around in the first Test, one hopes Pujara shows the way by playing more like a quality batter that he is, and not as a compulsive blocker.

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