Puuuu…jara, Puuuu…jara, Puuuu…jara.
It usually takes time for the crowds to figure just how they want to scream out your name – do they go with the first name or the surname, which syllable to stretch and whether it should have a rhythm. And when they do, it is usually a sign that as a player, you have arrived.
And in Mumbai – Pujara arrived.
Some might say that his 72 in a tricky fourth-innings run-chase against Australia was when he made his mark. But one look at the pitch at the Wankhede and you knew that this had to be the moment; this had to be the moment when he made you believe in his promise.
At Motera, the batting conditions were good — everyone had a good time. At Mumbai, they were anything but that. Even Virender Sehwag was forced to be circumspect. The ball was bouncing – for the pacemen and for the spinners. And when it started turning – the initial thought was that Dhoni has got his wish… a match that will end in three and half days.
Gautam Gambhir was gone in the first over. By the time India reached 60, Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were back in the hut. Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh were also dismissed with the score on just 119. On a turner, India had lost their most experienced batsmen for very little but Pujara, who ended up 114 (279b, 10×4), continued to remain unruffled. He batted with a calm that belied his inexperience – he is after all just 7 Tests old.
There are certain things that almost all young players do – they are always looking for an opportunity to impress. And in India – these days — trying to impress means trying to play the big shots but Pujara did not do that.
Instead, he impressed in defence; he impressed with his temperament; he impressed with his ability to not get bogged down; he impressed by always being on the lookout for a quick single.
Against Monty Panesar, who was clearly England’s finest spinner today, he played out 80 dot balls. Against Swann, he played out another 53 dot balls. He played out a total of 205 dot balls – 205 out of 279 balls faced. And that is the most important statistic – not numbers of fours hit. He knew exactly how to bide his time and wait for the opportunity; wait for the bad ball.
In this day and age, it usually doesn’t take long for a team to find a chink in a batsman’s armour. But Pujara has resisted all such attempts. England still have no idea of how to bowl at him and that is impressive too. Short balls are upper cut over the slips, his off-side play at Ahmedabad was exceptional and anything on the leg-side is punished. Does the man have a weakness?
Pujara made his Ranji debut in 2005 and all those years, he spent on the dust bowls in domestic cricket have allowed him to develop a style that is entirely his own – he isn’t Dravid, he isn’t Laxman. He is entirely his own man and that’s how it should be.
After just seven Tests, he already seems like he has settled in for the long haul. The team depends on him, the crowd depends on him, the nation depends on him. The pressure might get to a lesser batsman but Pujara is made of sterner stuff — with him you just know. It’s one of those instinctive things.
As Pujara and Ashwin (60 off 84 balls) walked off the ground, they had a satisfied smile on their faces and a standing ovation to give them a spring in their step. And you can be sure, both of them will be getting plenty more of those before their career is through.