Russian soldiers manning the far Northern territories extending beyond the Arctic Circle are faced with a stiff challenge. The temperatures here drop to a bone-freezing -50°C and the hapless armymen are forced to wear special outfits and eat high-calorie salami that help them survive the cold.
Just saving up frozen food won't help though. They need to know how to heat this food at such low temperatures. For this, there are ‘matryoshkas’, which are traditionally toys, but used by the armymen as boiler containers consisting of two to three levels.
Cheteshwar Pujara is Indian cricket’s Russian soldier in the North. The Saurashtra batsman is hardened to survive anywhere with a stable technique, large ounces of concentration and tremendous patience.
When it comes to India's No 3 batsman, the opposition barely matters. What does matter is how he plays each ball, judging the quality of each delivery without glancing at the face of the bowler. At the end of the day he would have runs, and plenty of them.
In Nagpur, in the second Test of the series, India were expected to bully the Sri Lankans into submission. They were expected to go hammer and tongs, enter the realms of T20 with their gameplay and create havoc.
That they did, but not through Pujara.
He was a picture of tranquility, occupying the crease for the eighth day in succession, bullying the Lankans through patience, perseverance and composure rather than wild bat swings.
Till he missed a yorker from Dasun Shanaka at 143, Pujara had barely put a foot wrong. He fell seven short of what could have been a seventh score of 150 or above. The stat in itself reveals the kind of temperament Pujara possesses.
The Maurya Dynasty’s Emperor Ashok was perhaps the most successful ruler in India. His vast empire extended from Assam in the East to Balochistan in the West and from Afghanistan in the North to all of South India except Tamil And Kerala.
Known for embracing Buddhism, Ashoka was infamous for his wicked temper. His torture chamber described as 'Paradisal Hell' in Buddhist texts were known to be a nightmarish place. His rampant, relentless attack in the Kalinga War has a special place in Indian history.
Virat Kohli is Indian cricket’s Emperor Ashoka. From the brash, coarse, temperamental youth, Kohli has grown into a leader who channelises his aggression and fulfills his passion. What has barely changed is his inexhaustible hunger for runs.
If the Virat Kohli before captaincy was a walking assassin with the bat, the Virat Kohli after captaincy is a brutal, blood-thirsty predator, ruthless and unrelenting. Runs have come thick and fast once he ascended the throne as skipper of the national side.
At Nagpur, he made 213, making it his 10th 100+ score of the year across formats, a record among captains eclipsing the likes of Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith. It was also his fifth double hundred in Test cricket. The Delhiite averages a whopping 63.93 as Test captain including 12 hundreds.
Since 2016, the Indian skipper has the best average in Test cricket — a jaw-dropping 70.75 — and has eight hundreds in the format. These are numbers to which even the modern day Don Bradman of cricket, Steven Smith, comes second to.
Kohli is a beast, a monster who pounces on the weakness of the opposition and forces them into submission. His 259 ball 200 was not only effortless, elegant and sublime, but was also studded with an array of shots all around the wicket, some of which sucked the energy out of the Lankan attack.
Together, Pujara and Kohli are modern day concrete walls, strong and unbreakable. They have an aura about them, reminiscent of the greatest partnerships in the history of cricket.
The 183-run stand against Sri Lanka at Nagpur came with a mixture of Kohli's persistent shot-making and exceptional running between the wickets and Pujara's sweat-breaking occupation of the crease.
While the partnership in itself flourished at nearly four runs an over, the stark contrast between the strike rates of the two batsmen explain the method each adopted. Kohli blazed off at a rate of 79.78 while Pujara was content with 39.5.
While there are critics everywhere blaming Pujara's strike-rate, the important thing to note is that he is no one-trick pony. When the situation demands, he is more than capable of unfurling his shots.
For instance, in the Vishakhapatnam Test against England last year, Pujara and Kohli both scored hundreds in the first innings and their first innings 226-run-stand came in quick time. On that occasion, Pujara had a strike rate of 58.33 (119 in 204 balls), comparable to that of Kohli's 62.54 (167 off 267 balls).
While Pujara mostly sticks to his bubble, milks the runs and bats time, Kohli plays the mind games. He pressurizes the bowler, puts him off with his pristine stroke-making, and motivates his partner to achieve his levels of greatness.
That, though, is difficult to match as Pujara himself admitted after the 3rd day’s play.
“The way he (Virat Kohli) started off, if there was some other batsmen, I don’t think they could have started in the same way. It’s his confidence and the way he is batting, in the last two-three years. It would have been difficult for any other batsman to score with such a strike rate”, the No 3 batsman had said of Virat Kohli's astonishing batting.
But the good thing is India do not need Pujara to match up with Kohli. The intent and aggression the Indian skipper exhibits complements the maturity and composure of Pujara perfectly well.
As a pair, they are a bowling attack’s nightmare. As one jades out bowlers with his dead bat and sound defences, the other wilts them with poise, elegance and class.
In 41 innings together, the duo have notched up 2000 runs at an average of 50.00. This includes five century stands and eight half-century stands.
The contrasting styles of the two batsmen go a long way in disrupting the rhythm of bowlers. For instance, the South African bowling attack is known to get right on top of the opposition when two batsmen who love to occupy the crease for long periods bat together. At the same time, when counter-attacked they go into hiding and the momentum is disturbed.
India do not have a lot to boast of in the Rainbow Nation, but recent performances have evoked hopes of a turnaround when they tour the country few weeks later. However, conditions in the sub-continent are quite contrasting to what can be expected of in South Africa and India will need their best batsmen to come to the forefront.
At the moment, Pujara and Kohli are right on top of the list. Their admirable technical skills make them India’s biggest players on the upcoming tour but their role could just be much more than individual scores. To survive in the country isn't what India will aim for. They need to beat the Proteas, and to do that, partnerships are the key. None have the quality, stark differences and extreme success rate as the Kohli - Pujara one.
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