Stats can tell you lot about about a player, but they can also mislead you while assessing his abilities. Cheteshwar Pujara, India's number 3 batsmen is prime example of it. And slow strike rate has nothing to do with it.
Number 3 position is one of the most critical positions in batting order of any cricket team. Especially in conditions where ball tends to seam or swing more, the importance of solid number 3 batsmen can't be emphasized enough.
Opening batsmen are vulnerable by very nature of the game. They are the ones who face the new ball bowlers first up on the fresh pitch. No one knows how a pitch is going to behave before a ball is bowled. Openers can come and go within minutes.
Number 3 batsmen has an important role to not only judge the conditions but also to set the momentum for a batting team.
If a pitch is doing plenty of things, like seaming and swinging, and giving lot's of assistance to bowlers, the job of number 3 is to display solid technique and preserve his wicket so that no new batsmen has to come in and face the bowlers. Number 3 batsmen needs to shield rest of the batsmen.
On the other hand, if openers have given a good start and and has been able to put up a good score, the job of number batsmen is to consolidate the position and accelerate later to keep the momentum on his team's side.
Thus, we can see that a batsmen occupying number 3 slot in batting order, must have the ability to both defend and attack based on the situation of the game. He should have right mix of attack and defense in his game.
Now this can be possible only when a player has a right technique and shots in his quiver. For example, he should have a solid front foot and back foot defense and ability to leave the ball to keep fielding side away from picking up a wicket. On the other hand, a good cut, pull, and cover driver will help his scoring quickly when needed. He should also be a good judge of a run.
The most important thing is that he should be able to play those shots in all conditions viz turning, seaming, swinging, and bouncing.
When one looks at Cheteshwar Pujara, batting in Asia in subcontinent conditions viz India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, one can see him having all the above required abilities to be ideal number 3 batsmen. He also has record on his name for playing longest test innings by ball faced by Indian batsmen in test cricket which he made by facing 525 balls against Austrlalia at Ranchi in 2017.
Pujara's overall test record is impressive with test batting average above 50. But there is a major glitch in that record.
|Cheteshwar Pujara's overall batting stats|
When we segregate his numbers based on conditions, the batting average tends to fluctuate a lot. In Asia his average goes up to as high as 65 while in Australia and New Zealand it comes down to 26. Similarly in Europe and Africa it is low at 27.
|Pujara averages less than 28 outside asia|
Thus, while Cheteshwar Pujara is doing what a number 3 should do in Asian conditions i.e. to anchor the innings and make runs quickly too when needed, he hasn't been able to perform the same way while playing outside Asia.
Rahul Dravid was India's number 3 batsmen before Cheteshwar Pujara. He was given the name "Wall" because of his solid record across all conditions and countries. Cheteshwar Pujara, while he gives impression of being another wall, but Sorry he is not the wall of Indian cricket which everyone tend to believe.
The failure of Cheteshwar Pujara outside Asia is a major factor for India's poor batting performances overseas. Often, because of his failures middle order is exposed early to the new ball.
Many time people blame Indian Cricket team's captain Virat Kohli, for Pujara's failure, but that is just silly. People argue that Kohli want's Pujara to bat quickly and that is not natural to Pujara, and hence he tends to get out.
Well, nothing can be far from real. Virat has made it clear many times that what he want's from everyone in team is to play their own game but with intent. If you want to defend the ball, do with intent. If you want to be attacking, do with intent. But don't be half hearted in your play. Because that is where opponents can take advantage of your lackluster attitude and shift momentum in their favor.
In our cricket article: don't blame kohli for loss when you can't praise him for wins, we showed how people get emotional and go on critcising Indian capatin. Same is the case when asks for something from his players for the team. Thus when a player fails, because of his own faults, even than kohli is blamed for that.
Unfortunately, Cheteshwar Pujara, when he plays overseas, not been able to do anything. Nor he has been able to anchor the innings, neither he has scored many runs. It has been a failed attempt at batting most time he has walked out bat outside Asian subcontinent. There are many faults in his technique and in additions to that he is a poor runner between the wickets too, which doesn't help him run 2's and 3's and on times when he does look to run he gets run out just as we saw in a test match at South Africa.
People remember failures of Virat Kohli as batsmen in last tour to England, where he averaged 13.40 in 5 tests. But many don't know that Cheteshwar Pujara too was a big failure with a meager average of 22.20 in same series.
The failures of Pujara obviously put lot of pressure on than young and inexperienced Virat Kohli and predictably he had a bad series. Credit to Virat Kohli though, that he was able to bat well after that series outside Asia even as Cheteshwar Pujara continued with poor run of form with bat outside subcontinent.
Even when we see the highest test score of Cheteshwar Pujara, it's 206. There are only 3 double century. This is too low a number when you hear people saying that once he is set a crane is needed to take him out of field. When it comes to above 150 scores, again they are only 6 and include above mentioned 3 double tons.
It's high time India and Indian cricket team fans need to shed emotions and back their captain and selectors if they look for a better alternative for number 3 position.
Pujara once again failed to anchor the innings in a recently concluded test series against South Africa. If India want victories against England, Australia, and New Zealand, it's time for India to find a better number , one which is solid in all conditions, one which is a wall everywhere.