There is no smoke without fire. But sometimes the wind can throw us a googly and make it difficult to find out where the fire really is. As India crashed to 244 all out in the Sydney Test, the focus once again shifted to India’s bizarre approach to batting in away Tests.
Those 244 runs came off 100.4 overs on a pitch that wasn’t exactly poor for batting. The odd ball did do something but most experts reckoned it was a new-ball pitch and batting should have gotten easier after that. All eyes invariably moved to Pujara, who made his slowest fifty in Test cricket before being dismissed for 50 off 176 balls – a strike-rate of 28.41.
From 85/2 after 32.1 overs (when Gill was dismissed), India crawled to 142/4 after 67.2 overs (when Vihari was dismissed) – that is 57 runs in 35.1 overs for the loss of two wickets when the ball wasn’t new and hard. Batting should have been at its easiest at this point but by not showing any intent to score runs, India’s batsmen once again shot themselves in the foot.
At one point, Pujara had 16 runs off 100 balls, and to former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting, it was a counter-productive effort.
“I don’t think it was the right approach,” said Ponting on Twitter. “I think he needed to be a bit more proactive with his scoring rate because I felt it was putting too much pressure on his batting partners.”
Some argued that this is how Pujara plays. Others felt the rest of the batsmen need to score at a better rate. A few grumbled about how Pujara needs to be more aware of the match situation. Still more started comparing him to Rahul Dravid and saying that the former India skipper had at least more strokes at his disposal. But that isn’t exactly true.
In fact, Pujara has a higher career strike-rate than Dravid but perhaps our cricketing sensibilities are a product of the times as well.
With matches hardly going the full distance these days, Pujara’s efforts come into focus even more. The thinking, for most batsmen, clearly is that if you are in, you need to make the most of your time in the time. In Pujara’s case, as it perhaps was in Dravid’s case too, though, the thinking seems to be that if you are in, then try and stay in for as long as possible.
Dravid vs Pujara (career numbers)
A look at the country-wise breakdown of Dravid and Pujara also reveals that there is little to choose between the two. So why do we hold one in such high esteem but continuously doubt the other?
One reason for that could simply be that there’s a certain way Kohli wants this team to play. He continuously searches for intent, even from a batting line-up that has proved to be brittle away from home. The fragility of the batting line-up brings Pujara’s efforts into focus even more because it looks like he has played a lot of balls but done nothing concrete with his time in the middle.
Ganguly wasn’t as demanding in terms of intent. He wanted to win Tests too but he was prepared to wait and had absolute confidence in Dravid. It also helped that Dravid had four of India’s greatest modern-day batsmen batting all around him – Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.
So while India batted around Dravid, they simply collapse around Pujara. From that perspective, it might be argued that the current Indian team hasn’t found a way to truly utilise Pujara’s ability to occupy the crease for long periods.
Dravid (in bold) vs Pujara
|in New Zealand||7||766||63.83||43.69|
|in New Zealand||4||160||20||29.96|
|in South Africa||11||624||29.71||37.63|
|in South Africa||7||411||31.61||38.88|
|in Sri Lanka||12||662||33.1||40.61|
|in Sri Lanka||4||454||90.8||53.03|
|in West Indies||17||1511||65.69||38.4|
|in West Indies||5||122||20.33||32.62|
Dravid vs the rest
One key difference between the two players is how Dravid has a slightly better strike-rate away from home (44.57 across 9 countries) as compared to Pujara (38.97 across 6 countries).
At home, Pujara has a SR of 50.61 at home to Dravid’s 42.38. But that comes down largely to how the two play.
Dravid had a good backfoot game, could play the horizontal bat shots with authority and that helped him away from home. He also adapted his game to play well in England against the moving ball and could rotate the strike that little bit better.
Pujara, on the other hand, actually looks to take the initiative against spinners but away from home, against pace, he waits for the bowlers to come to him.
If they, as the Australian bowlers have this series, can stay away from Pujara’s zone then there are no runs on offer. They can keep banging it in short of length and the right-hander will continue to defend resolutely. Patience isn’t an issue for him but for the batsman at the other end, it is perhaps proving to be.
Dravid over the years
Pujara over the years
Much of the criticism that we now see for Pujara was there for Dravid too. Too slow... kills the momentum... allows the opposition back into the game, but all of this would only be heard in good batting conditions.
In tough conditions and against quality bowlers, Dravid and Pujara are worth their weight in gold but the problem arises in better conditions when the team is looking to move the game forward.
Ordinarily, strike-rates in Test cricket should not be a talking point but given that it comes so soon after Adelaide, one must go back to Kohli’s words in the press conference after the defeat.
“Probably didn’t have enough intent in the batting today. It’s something that needs to be reflected and learnt from,” Kohli had said.
He had added: “There were some good balls. But I don’t think it did anything drastic. Just the atmosphere was created where runs were difficult to come by.”
With Pujara in the middle, there is no denying that run-scoring does become more of a chore and while he has his own method, he, like Dravid, needs to figure out a way to make the most of his time at the crease.
Some might argue that he’s already doing that. Others will say he can do more. Either way, this debate isn’t going away anytime soon. It didn’t for Dravid. It won’t for Pujara. Together they are, joined by their similar method and their love for batting on and on.