It’s tough to think of Emperor Akbar without immediately thinking of his advisor, Birbal. Similarly, in the current Indian Test team, it’s foolish to talk about Captain Virat Kohli without involving batting sensation Cheteshwar Pujara.
Pujara is not Kohli’s advisor as he is not the vice-captain, but his performance has benefited Virat Kohli many-a-times, especially recently. Virat Kohli is a superstar and he has been performing consistently for India, but if you talk about him as a captain in this current home season, then the way Pujara has aided him verifies that Pujara is the Birbal to Kohli’s Akbar.
People compare Virat Kohli with Sachin Tendulkar and they say Pujara is the wall of India, just like Rahul Dravid. However, whether they are actually, individually, like those two or not is for another day. As a pair, Kohli-Pujara is certainly like Tendulkar-Dravid in Tests for India. Kohli is an aggressive batsman and Pujara is steady and boring like Dravid. Kohli is always the center of attention but Pujara does all the work without being in the news.
They are like brothers, one takes the leadership and other chases him.
Cheteshwar Pujara started his career on a high note in 2010, but was in the news for his bad form and technique after the South Africa series of 2013. In the third Test at Colombo (SSC) against Sri Lanka in 2015, Pujara was his old self again, carrying a bat when all proper batsmen failed.
Just like Pujara, Kohli also began his Test career decently, but was criticized during the 2014 tour of England for his poor technique against the moving ball. Since then he has been in the form of his life in Test cricket, particularly in 2016-17 home season for India.
Cheteshwar Pujara found his real mojo in Test cricket once again against New Zealand in 2016-17 after the third Test against Sri Lanka. Since then both Kohli and Pujara have not taken any wrong steps in beating oppositions in India.
Kohli has broken more records at his current age in the 2016-17 season, but Pujara is not far behind. Pujara has scored the second most runs (948 from 10 Tests) for India this season. Pujara plays only Test cricket for India because many believe he isn’t good at quick-scoring cricket, but a quick fifty in the second innings of the one-off Test against Bangladesh demonstrated that he is learning from Kohli. However, that fifty against Bangladesh was not enough for Pujara to win an IPL contract.
Pujara scored three half-centuries in the first two Tests against New Zealand but Kohli did not score a single half-century in those Tests. If third Test’s first innings against New Zealand was all about Kohli as he scored a double century, then the second innings of that Test was about Pujara as he smashed a century. This series certainly proved that if not Kohli, then Pujara is the man for India to rely on. But one series is not enough to make that statement famous.
In the first Test against England at Rajkot, Pujara proved that why he is the king of Rajkot. Kohli also played a crucial knock of 49* runs in the second innings to help India to save the match. In the second Test against England, both scored centuries. Both scored a half-century again in the third Test at Mohali. In the fourth Test at Mumbai, Kohli scored a double century and Pujara missed his half century by three runs in the first innings. These four Tests have substantiated that if not Kohli, Pujara scores; else both.
The fifth Test against England at Chennai was odd as both Pujara and Kohli, failed but Karnataka duo of Lokesh Rahul (199) and Karun Nair (303*) stood up and performed brilliantly, showing that cricket is a team game.
Their story, which started against New Zealand, stopped in the fifth Test against England after seven consecutive Tests. It picked back up against Bangladesh as Kohli scored a double century and Pujara scored two half-centuries in that Test.
The final destination for India in this home season is Australia. In the first Test at Pune, India lost the match by 333 runs and once again both Kohli and Pujara had flopped. This pair took a break, but now it’s time for both of them to accelerate if India are to win the series against Australia. Other Indian batsmen have also performed well, but nobody has scored more runs than these two in this home Test season of 2016-17.
Whenever India have lost the second wicket of Pujara this season, spectators have clapped not for him but for Kohli, as he was the next batsman to come in for India. People say that if India wants to win the series against Australia, Kohli has to score the majority of the runs. But this home Test season has really demonstrated that if not Kohli, Pujara should be the player you trust.
Virat Kohli has justified that captain should lead from the front but on the other hand, Pujara’s performance gives a message that the captain is only as good as his team. If the captain and the team fail in the same Test, then the result will look like India’s debacle at Pune.
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