‘He showed what Test cricket is all about.’
‘It is not about hitting the ball and looking fancy out in the middle, it is about showing grit.’
Few knew that his father Arvind Pujara was undergoing cardiac surgery in a Mumbai hospital at the same time. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh singles out Cheteshwar Pujara’s contribution as the biggest factor in India’s maiden Test series triumph in Australia.
“Australia had a good attack, but they were not able to find a solution for Pujara. He just stood there and grinded them out. He left them completely clueless and deflated. His batting was majorly responsible for India’s victory. His batting is a lesson for others,” Harbhajan tells Rediff.com‘s Harish Kotian.
Pujara was the highest run-scorer in the series with 521 runs in the four Tests. All his three centuries were match-winning ones.
“Pujara showed the way with the bat. He showed what Test cricket is all about, it is not about hitting the ball and looking fancy out in the middle, it is about showing grit. It is about battling against some tough spells, wearing out the bowlers by batting out session by session.”
“This saying goes perfectly for Pujara ‘The will is bigger than skill’ and I salute him for his brave batting in Australia,” declares Bhajji who has a tally of 417 wickets in 103 Tests.
Australia failed to find a way past Pujara as he stayed at the wicket for 1,258 deliveries during the series. None of his team-mates faced more than 700 balls. And none of the Australians went past 600 balls.
“He faced a majority of the bowling in the series and just wore out the Australian bowlers mentally, which made things easier for the batsmen at the other end and also for the batsmen to follow,” Bhajji points out.
“He did well against the new ball because the openers were getting out early every time and he had to come in early. He also batted well against the old ball, especially against Nathan Lyon, using his feet quite well to disrupt his rhythm.”
“It is good to see Pujara getting the rewards for putting in so much hard work over the years. People like him deserve a lot of credit because he plays only in one format. He has shown that if you stick to your game, then you can still be successful and you don’t have to change anything.”
“I think all can learn from him on how to play in Test cricket. He has a limited game, but he has shown that within your own limitations you can be a successful player,” Bhajji explains.
Harbhajan said Pujara’s approach is quite similar to batting legend Rahul Dravid who also put a price on his wicket.
“Their batting styles are different. He is similar to Dravid in the sense that they both like to bat non-stop. Even if you see in the nets, Pujara will bat for a long time and after that he will come and do something else like fielding or catching. Dravid was also like that,” Bhajji recalls.
“They both like to work hard in the nets and the results show. It is difficult to get them out, both of them never gave their wickets away easily,” he adds.
Bhajji lavishes rich praise on fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah who was the joint highest-wicket taker in the series with 21 wickets, the same as Nathan Lyon.
Bumrah’s lethal spell of 6/33 in the Melbourne Test helped India clinch the series. “Bumrah was outstanding,” says Bhajji. “He made the difference with the ball for India, he bowled fast and gave the batsmen a lot of problems by picking up wickets every time he was given the ball.”
“He is the No 1 bowler in the world right now. He has pace, he has all the variations and he uses them quite well. It is good to see him grow and develop so fast. I hope he continues to produce the results and win more matches for India in the years to come,” says Bhajji.
“Pujara and Bumrah were the two standout players for India.”
Harbhajan is impressed with Kuldeep Yadav, the young spinner who picked up 5 wickets in the Sydney Test.
He believes Kuldeep is a genuine match-winner and it is time he gets a regular spot in the playing eleven in Tests even if India are playing just one spinner.
“It is time Kuldeep plays as the No 1 spinner,” says Bhajji, because he is a genuine match-winner. You can’t keep out a bowler like him for long.”
“The more he is going to play, the more he will learn about how to bowl in Test cricket and develop as a good bowler.”
“He has spent a lot of time waiting, now is the time to play him because he is a match-winner and can win you matches on his own. Even someone like Ravindra Jadeja cannot be kept out because he has done everything you asked him to, pick wickets and score runs,” says Bhajji.
“These two should be the two top spinners going forward for India,” Bhajji asserts.
There is no danger of Kuldeep becoming predictable in the future once people start analysing him by watching videos, believes Bhajji.
“Let’s see in the future when things come to that. People will see videos and analyse him, but he will also develop his bowling at the same time. If you are a good bowler, you can do well despite everything.”
“You don’t think India must have been studied videos of Nathan Lyon, but he still did well with the ball in the series,” Bhajji points out.
“A good bowler is always going to deliver with the ball.”