By Nandakumar Marar
MUMBAI: Cheteshwar Pujara’s bat is worth its weight in gold, for
holding the Indian batting together on away tours against world-class
bowling. If not his bat, atleast this master batsman is worth much
more to Indian cricket than the runs against his name in Test matches
(6111 runs from 81 games prior to the ongoing Tests against England).
The hours of toil at the crease tiring out rival bowlers, the blows
taken on body in a spirit of defiance for the team cause, the
stroke-players who played freely after getting strength from his
presence at the other end…. class, courage and character are three C
words which glow with meaning when used to describe this Team India
This is an attempt to gauge his value to Indian cricket as a performer
in a world of his own with reference to Test cricket, at the same time
not so visible in the 50-overs, 20:20 or T10 formats. Specialists in
the shorter versions earn more, command a bigger fan following than
masters of Test cricket which is universally acknowledged as the
toughest among four formats due to diverse physical, mental, technical
challenges on players involved. Interestingly, the first Test against
England is in progress at Chennai, the city is also hosting the IPL
Test match cricket away from home is extreme pressure under unfamiliar
conditions, like a marathon run over many days on a route filled with
surprises at every turn. Pujara is up there with the elite batting
anchors of his generation. The recognition and respect in the world
cricket community comes at a price, he is targeted by rival teams
whose aggressive attitude is driven by the fear that this man stands
between them and victory. Australian bowlers attempted to batter him
into submission in the second innings of the fourth Test at Brisbane
2021 and ran out of breath.
Earlier in 2018, he was the top-scorer on either side when Australia
hosted the visitors. India returned home after a historic away Test
series win, the batting anchor was named the ‘Player of the Series’.
For a player rarely caught off-balance at the crease, Pujara
registered for the 2021 IPL auction in an attempt to remain relevant
in cricket’s most popular format. He has all the strokes in the book
and can improvise using cricketing shots. Getting into a T20 franchise
squad on pure batting alone is a reflection on high optimism in an
individual. For the record, he featured in IPL from 2010 to 2014 and
in 2019 scored a T20 century for Saurashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali
Trophy (100 off 61 balls) against Railways at Indore.
The response from IPL franchise teams to Pujara’s optimism remains to
be seen. His attempt to play T20s in the year when India is hosting
the ICC T20 World Cup can be attributed to the fact that
internationals are expected to play regularly in more than one format
to be eligible for A-plus category listing in BCCI’s annual contracts.
He is in the second rung (Category A and paid Rs 5 crore) below the
A-plus toppers (Rs 7 crore bracket) for the period between October
2019 to September 2020 when the pandemic disrupted sporting action.
Does Pujara deserve a contract upgrade from A (Rs 5 crore bracket) to
A+ purely on the strength of exceptional Test achievements so far,
especially overseas tours, is an issue to be addressed. Does he
deserve to be compensated financially in some way, so that the
heartburn of missing out on T20s is reduced?
Financial incentives will be an out-of-turn decision by the
authorities, for an exceptional cricketer who put himself in the
firing line against aggressive Australian bowling in the game’s
toughest format over four Tests. He cut out the pull shots and took
the ball on his body, bearing the pain for the country’s sake. From
the time he took a bow in world cricket at number three in the batting
order (2010 home Test series against Australia at Bengaluru under M S
Dhoni), he delivered more than what Team India expected from him (72
runs in the second innings on debut) and set the foundation for Test
wins home and abroad. Does he deserve special treatment for an A+
performance in Tests, for showing the way to younger teammates and
cricket watchers worldwide the vanishing craft of anchoring an
The maestro’s series-defining 56 runs in the second innings at
Brisbane 2021 was witnessed from close by a frustrated Australia’s
captain and wicket-keeper, Tim Paine, who incidentally was also behind
the sticks under skipper Ricky Ponting at Bengaluru 2010. Team India
won both run chases 11 years apart, the common factor is a strong,
silent achiever whose guts and patience tired out bowlers. Indian
cricket is still to make an exception for Cheteshwar Pujara beyond the
playing fees (Rs 15 lakh per Test) and annual retainership contract.
The frequency of ODIs and T20s in bilateral series leads to India
teammates earning more in a season than a senior who inspires them.
The marathoner in cricket whites, busy with Test duty against England
and putting a premium on his wicket, registered for the 2021 IPL
auction at a base price of Rs 50 lakh. Pujara is prepared to put the
batting form displayed earlier in the season on the line for
acceptance into cricket’s version of a 20-metre sprint in coloured
clothing, under the floodlights.