Cheteshwar Pujara is a throwback to an earlier age of cricket. He is understated, restrained, not given to flashy strokes or showy celebrations. He is not concerned with appearances or making sure he gets noticed. But he has all the attributes required of a Test No.3: patience, concentration, balance, stamina, composure, and most importantly, a hunger for runs.
If that wasn’t clear from his domestic record, turning his second Test century into an unbeaten double-hundred hammered the point home. His batting is uncomplicated and classical. Upright at the crease, he looks to play each ball on its merit. He does not seek to dominate an attack, rather, in the mould of Dravid, he frustrates the opposition and forces them to bowl to his strengths.
His composure and confidence was as visible at the end of day one as it was at the start of day two. He was on 94 with one ball left to play from Stuart Broad on Thursday. It was full and wide and he crunched it through the covers for four. For a batsman playing only his sixth Test, he would have been forgiven for letting the ball go through to the keeper to ensure he came back the next day to complete his hundred. But he was unafraid to back himself and with that one stroke he showed the intent with which he bats.
Today, on 99, he faced Graeme Swann with a packed leg-side field. England, hoping the nervous nineties would disturb Pujara’s concentration, were trying to force him to go over the top. Pujara calmly played out a maiden from Swann before milking Broad for a single to reach his second Test hundred. He followed it with a restrained celebration, typical of his character. Then it was back to the business of making more runs.
The outstanding aspect of his innings was the way he played Swann, who was by far England’ s best bowler. Swann’s excellent control of line and length posed problems for all of India’s batsmen. He bowled Virat Kohli through the gate and had Tendulkar caught in the deep after the batsmen misjudged the flight of the ball. Pujara, however, was largely untroubled. One shot in particular epitomised the way he handled the offspinner. Swann tossed a delivery a fraction higher; Pujara spotted it early, skipped down the wicket, gave himself room and drove through extra-cover for four. It was a shot of a batsman completely in control of his game.
If Virender Sehwag dominated England on the opening day, Pujara ground them into helplessness on the second. He batted for over eight and a half hours to make his 206, but looked hungry for more even as India declared at 521 for 8. Pujara’s first hundred against New Zealand was cut short on 159 when he played a loose stroke. Today, he showed that he has learned from that mistake.
Kohli might have been hailed as the face of modern Indian cricket. Talented, brash, and in-your-face, he is seen as representing the next step in India’s coming-of-age on the world stage. But if India want to rebuild their Test batting line-up in the wake of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and yes, eventually Sachin Tendulkar, they would do well to rebuild it around Pujara instead.