Cricket has changed so much in the T20 age that even someone like Ricky Ponting has been affected. He questioned the value of Cheteshwar Pujara’s slow-boiling hundred at Melbourne at the end of the second day, saying that India might come to rue its slowness. Just a few hours of play on the third day, where Australian batsmen stumbled in a heap on a pitch with variable bounce, would have been enough to make Ponting wish Australia had someone like Pujara. Never before has there been a batsman who has deviated so far away from the mean to stand as apart as Pujara does from his contemporaries. No one else has the patience to bat so long, or the skill to anesthetise the bowlers for so long.
To reduce him to a throwback hashtag, though, would be a crime. His achievement doesn’t just lie in cosmetic anachronism but in its efficacy in the modern-day frenzy. There is now enough data that shows how it’s Pujara who blunts the best bowler in the opposition, how he soaks up the pressure and lets the likes of Virat Kohli prosper.
In South Africa at the start of this year, in the only Test India won at Johannesburg, Pujara took 54 balls to get off the mark in his 179-ball 50. But he played out Vernon Philander’s first two spells ( 9 out of Philander’s 12 overs with new ball) that allowed Kohli to settle in. In Nottingham, in the only Test India won in that series, Pujara again shielded Kohli from their best bowler, James Anderson.
He took on the lion’s share of the strike so that by the time Anderson got a chance to bowl more than three balls in a row, Kohli had faced nearly 50 balls and had eased himself in. In Adelaide, the first Test of the current series against Australia, Pujara played out half of the overs bowled by Nathan Lyon in both innings. The relentless tuk-tuk might not be glamorous, but without Pujara, India may not have won any overseas Tests this year.