Cheteshwar Pujara | 26
On the morning of November 15, as Sachin Tendulkar crafted a masterful knock of 74 at the Wankhede in his last outing in national colours, another man chugged along at the other end, if somewhat invisibly. His singles were cheered (as they returned strike to the Little Master), so were his boundaries (with a ‘Sachin, Sachin’ chant). He drove, cut, flicked, almost effortlessly as he stood rock-solid in defence. When he was done for the day, he had notched up a century, and eventually the highest score of the match. Minimum fuss, maximum impact: Meet Cheteshwar Pujara.
“Pujara has mastered the craft of playing the longer format of the game. It may not be the most popular format, but it is that format that tests your ability, temperament, technique, everything. That’s the pinnacle of cricket and Pujara has in him what it takes to reach the top,” says Aakash Chopra, former India Test opener.
Along with Virat Kohli, Pujara has emerged as one of the torchbearers of the legacy of India’s Big Four. His game is steeped in classicism and controlled aggression. In 17 Test matches, he has scored six 100s (two 200+ and two 150+ scores to boot) and four 50s with an average of 66.25. With an unflappable concentration (he can switch on and off at ease, says Chopra) and a technique that has helped him tame even the South African speed guns on their home grounds, India’s new ‘Wall’ at No. 3 has arrived.
Says commentator Harsha Bhogle, “I have long admired Pujara’s temperament; his hawk-like gaze, his calm demeanour and an aggression that is channelled. Often we think aggression is about displaying your passion; with Pujara it is about taking on the bowling, looking to score, doing it his way. I know when I see Pujara walk to the crease that I am going to see a wholesome player, that I won’t see someone who has left a part of himself back in the dressing room.”
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(This story appears in the 21 February, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)