Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahul Dravid are two very different batsmen. Their approach to batting is similar, but that’s where the similarity ends and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
India must not make the mistake of building Pujara into the next Dravid – simply because rather than be the next ‘anyone’, he can do well enough as himself. By comparing him to any player – past or present, you are burdening him with expectations that are not entirely of his making.
Success or failure must be a route that he takes entirely on his own. Anything else will be unfair on a young batsman who has shown himself capable of ensuring that India’s cricketing fortunes don’t dip too dramatically.
His innings started off slowly. Virender Sehwag, at the other end, was throwing his bat at everything and it would have been enough to throw a youngster off his rhythm. Almost every four was followed by edge but at the other end, Pujara just did his own thing – he took the odd single, punished the bad ball and basically minded his own business.
Sourav Ganguly couldn’t stop gushing about how meticulously organised he looked. And later in the day, Pujara spoke about how his experience of playing at Hyderabad before helped. But it was still nice to see a batsman of this generation know his way around Test cricket.
Dravid was brought up on bouncy pitches in Bangalore – his technique was much more orthodox than Pujara’s. He seemed better equipped than most Indian batsmen to handle the pace and bounce on overseas tours.
Pujara, on the other hand, was brought up on the dustbowls on Saurashtra. If you speak to players who played at the Ranji level, they will say that Saurashtra would simply look to bat the opposition out of matches. They would bat with the intention of getting a first innings lead and such was the format that a first innings lead would allow you to get to, at least, the knockout rounds.
Today, Pujara got to his 50 off 119 balls including 6 fours. Then after tea, he tore the New Zealand attack to shreds. He put on exactly 50 in the next 50 balls to reach his first Test century off 169 balls. He also managed to hammer 8 fours and a six in his second fifty.
At 99, despite having hit the Kiwi bowlers to all parts of the ground, he was calm. The crowd was cheering and chanting his name, but he was content to defend.
This maybe his first Test ton but by Ranji standards, he is already a veteran. He’s done it plenty of times before – 14 hundreds and 21 fifties in first class cricket show that he is a man, who to quote Graham Gooch, likes to get the ‘Big Daddy’ hundreds.
But perhaps the best part of the day was not when Pujara got his ton. Rather, it was when he was batting with Virat Kohli, who made 58. The 125-run partnership, India’s largest so far, gave us a glimpse into the future. And honestly, at least, for a while, the gloom due to the retirements of Dravid and VVS Laxman disappeared.
They still have a way to go before they can meet the standards set by Dravid and Laxman but this was a mighty fine start.