Pujara's form of late does not inspire confidence ahead of India's tour of England
The England tour will be the second big overseas ‘test’ for Virat Kohli’s men since climbing to the top of the ICC Test rankings. The side were beaten 2-1 in South Africa in a hard-fought three-match Test series earlier this year.
Expectations will be high when Kohli’s men land on English shores. While expectations will be high, the scrutiny will be intense as well.
One particular batsman who will be under the spotlight, apart from the skipper, is Cheteshwar Pujara. While the top-order batsman remains almost unshakable in subcontinent conditions, his performance overseas in the past few years has left plenty to be desired.
The Rajkot batsman was earmarked as a special Test talent early in his domestic career. When he did get his break at the Test level, it seemed that the side had finally found a replacement for Rahul Dravid. As he smashed a superb 153 in the second innings against South Africa at Johannesburg in 2013, it looked liked the Indian team had a new ‘wall’ to lean on.
However, Pujara has been unable to sustain that early promise overseas. The 30-year-old has registered three more overseas tons since but all of them have come against Sri Lanka in familiar subcontinent tracks.
While Pujara has a healthy average of over 50 after 58 Tests for India, his away record outside Asian conditions is dismal with an average of 27 in 20 Tests.
Ever since that mammoth 153 against South Africa, the right-hander struck just four fifties outside Asia. This includes a run of 17 Tests against the likes of New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa.
In India’s last overseas tour against South Africa at the start of the year, Pujara had scores of 26, 4, 19, 50 and 1. These are hardly confidence-building knocks from the team’s No3 batsman.
When it comes to his record on English shores, the numbers make even more dreadful reading for Pujara. In the five-Test series in 2014, the right-hander scored 222 runs from 10 innings at an average of 22.2.
His last five Test innings in England – 2, 0, 17, 4 and 11 – make for more sorry reading and he does not inspire confidence on a long and grueling away tour.
Pujara did make the right move by signing up for a county stint with Yorkshire earlier this year. However, things haven’t gone according to plan there. While he did play some excellent knocks in the List A One-Day Cup, Pujara’s form in the first-class competition in England was horrendous. The batsman could only muster 100 runs in eight innings for the county heavyweights as he struggled to come to grips with the swinging Duke ball.
In Afghanistan’s inaugural Test in Bengaluru recently, Pujara was demoted to the No4 position in the batting order to make way for KL Rahul. There too, he struggled to impose himself on the Afghan bowlers despite Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay setting up the perfect platform for him to flourish.
Pujara looks a shadow of the batsman who was resisting the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel in 2013. The England series could be make or break Pujara’s Test career. At the age of 30, another series of overseas failures could put a big question mark over his future in Tests and he could soon be labeled another ‘flat-track bully’.