The Twin Pillars of India’s Batting
Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, consistent and strong
They are the twin pillars of Indian batting and as long as they are around the chances are that India will continue to be No 1 in the ICC Test rankings. Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are so consistent that they are able to cover up for any weaknesses in the side.
The duo- along with the varied bowling line-up – is the main reason why India is on a high. Their approach to batting may be different but their goal is the same – to amass runs and big scores and see that the Indian batting puts pressure on the opponents every time. .
In Kohli’s case the stats against his name get dizzier and dizzier. almost every time he bats. It is now taken for granted that the records held by Sachin Tendulkar will be broken by Kohli. When the great man retired it was thought that the figures against his name would stand the test of time for an extended period. A little matter of 15,921 runs in Tests, 18,426 runs in ODIs, 51 hundreds in Tests, 49 in ODIs besides a host of minor records said it all. It would be Mission Impossible for anyone to even come near let alone surpass these marks – or so one reckoned.
And yet just over five years since Tendulkar played his last Test we have someone like Sunil Gavaskar who is as cautious in his predictions as he was in his batting approach sticking his neck out and saying that by the time Kohli finishes playing the game most batting records would be his. Even those who believed that Tendulkar’s records were unsurpassable are now more or less convinced that if there is one batsman who will go past them it is Kohli.
While it can be taken for granted that Tendulkar’s marks are no longer safe what is absolutely mind boggling is that some of Kohli’s records are next only to Don Bradman. Of course unlike in the case of Tendulkar it can be safely said that Bradman’s major records will stand as long as cricket is played. But to run up stats that brings you next only to the game’s greatest batsman ever is something that gives the Indian captain an aura all his own. Cricket has thrown up several great batsmen since Bradman played his last Test 71 years ago but none of them came close to even threatening his major records. Kohli too is some distance away but the fact that he is second only to Bradman at least in some cases speaks volumes of his driving ambition to be the best in the business.
For example a benchmark for a batsman to be hailed as truly great is to average a hundred every four Tests. But Kohli averages a hundred every three Tests – 25 in 77 matches. Bradman of course is way ahead with 29 hundreds in just 52 Tests. Kohli’s six double hundreds – one such landmark almost every 13 Tests – is joint second with Walter Hammond and next only to Bradman who notched up 12 such scores. The Indian captain got to his 24th Test hundred in his 123rd innings next only to Bradman who needed just 66 innings. On the way Kohli surpassed Tendulkar (125 innings) and Gavaskar (128 innings). It is clear that in future whenever he passes another landmark it may not be Tendulkar’s name that will crop up but Bradman’s – the ultimate tribute to any batsman
As a batsman Kohli is in a league of his own. On his way to becoming the quickest to reach this mark or the youngest to reach that mark putting in the shade some of the greatest names in the history of the game Kohli has already ran up an awesome record. His feats in Test cricket have already been discussed but it is the same with ODIs. No one in the history of the limited overs game who has notched up over 10,000 runs allied to an average as high as almost 60. What’s more his tally of 39 hundreds is already second to Tendulkar’s record of 49. The way he is going that is probably going to be the first of Tendulkar’s records to go overboard.
Perhaps even more remarkable is his performance in cricket’s shortest format. It is a format that calls for very quick scoring marked by big hits which means the risk factor is high. Moreover the restricted number of overs means that knocks are generally explosive and entertaining but short on the duration factor. Astonishingly Kohli averages 49 in T-20 internationals to go along with a highly impressive strike rate of 136. To put these figures in proper perspective let’s examine the figures of two T-20 players who have a sky high reputation - Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum. The former has a strike rate of 143 but he averages only 33 while the latter has the same strike rate as Kohli’s but averages 35. He has been acknowledged as the best batsman in cricketing history across three formats and rightly so.
Pujara of course is very different both in personality and in the batting approach. He does not have the captain’s high profile and flamboyant image but this does not make him any less valuable to the side. Like Rahul Dravid, Pujara has been India’s go to man in a crisis. But he is a Test specialist and so is talked about only when the team plays the traditional format.
In these days of reverse sweeps, switch hits, dilscoops and helicopter shots it is heartening to know that there are batsmen like Pujara who still swear by the text book approach. I have nothing against the other innovative shots and they have a place in a changing game and an environment eager for entertainment. But entertainment can come in many ways and the chiseled strokes of Pujara in a way constitute the highest art form in the game. He has a vast repertoire of the strokes prescribed in the coaching manual that would make the purists’ eyes sparkle with delight. Yes, even in these days of slam bang cricket there is place for a classic stylist like Pujara.
Besides that as is well known he is Indian cricket’s crisis man. When Dravid retired the hearts of the Indian cricket fans were filled with trepidation. Could the legend’s place ever be filled they asked their minds filled with anxiety. But they need not have worried. In his first innings for India at No 3 even as Dravid was still around Pujara hit a stroke filled 72 to steer his team to a seven wicket victory over Australia in 2010 and it was quickly obvious that once the great man called it a day the team had a ready and more than adequate replacement.
Over the years Pujara has grown in stature and this is best underlined by figures. In 68 Tests he has got 18 hundreds, three of them doubles, at an average of 51. At 30 he still has many years of cricket ahead of him and it can safely be said that with his legendary powers of dedication, determination and concentration and his intense focus on the job to be accomplished his best is yet to come and that is heartening news for Indian cricket.