Kohli: People don't understand Pujara's importance

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Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara [Sportzpics]

India captain Virat Kohli was full of praise for Cheteshwar Pujara after the end of the third Test against Australia in Ranchi, which ended in a draw.

Pujara was named the Player of the Match for his brilliant performance with the bat as he scored the third double century of his Test career. In facing 525 deliveries during his innings, he created a record for the most balls faced by an Indian batsman in a Test innings.

Kohli feels that people don’t understand the importance of Pujara and what he brings to the Indian Test team. He said that the Saurashtra batsman always puts his hand up when a pressure situation arises.

“Sometimes, I feel really bad for him [Pujara] that, you know, people don’t understand his importance so much in this team and what a valuable player he is for us,” said Kohli.

“He’s the most composed player we have in the team, he’s willing to grind for his runs, he doesn’t mind batting under pressure, he likes to take a challenge of batting long.

“So, someone like that is priceless to have in the team and when the pressure situation comes, he always wants to put his hand up and play long for the team and hold up one end which is a great quality in him.”

In fact, Pujara – during his knock in the third Test against Australia – overtook Kohli as the highest run-scorer for India in their ongoing home season.

In 12 Tests, the 29-year-old batsman has notched up 1259 runs at an average of 66.26 with four centuries to his name.

“This season, he [Pujara] has been understanding. I don’t know the number of runs he has scored, but he has contributed throughout and he’s not been spoken about or been the focus too much, but I think he deserves much more than that,” added Kohli.

“People need to stand up and take notice of what he’s done this season. He’s been outstanding with the bat and I hope he can continue till the last Test match as well.”

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The impregnable Cheteshwar Pujara

Tanay Tiwari 20/03/2017
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Pujara celebrates his double ton [Sportzpics]

On Sunday morning, even before Cheteshwar Pujara stepped out to bat, some exceptional presence of mind and genius camera work captured a rare moment: the Saurashtra batsman, waiting for the match officials to take the field, stood right behind the boundary line with his eyes shut.

This was a crucial day, India were coming out to bat at 360/6, 91 runs behind Australia’s first innings total of 451. On so many occasions, we’ve seen the Indian lower-middle order crumble in these situations.

It was crucial that Pujara who was returning to bat at 130* hung in there for long enough, and with his eyes shut, you knew he was telling himself precisely that.

Before this match began, in this home season, the Indian opening partnership averaged 29.70 while Pujara averaged 58.72, which meant that he wasn’t only contributing heavily with runs, but he was also absorbing immense pressure, seeing off the new ball, and allowing the incoming batsmen to take their time to settle.

Sunday was crucial, with so much chatter around this series and so much that was at stake for either side, it was going to be a grueling day of Test cricket.

As it turned out, in the first session, Australia dried up the runs, with Steve O’Keefe and Josh Hazelwood practically hitting the same spot on the pitch every ball. The plan seemed obvious, they wanted to bore the Indian batsmen out.

Little did they know, that in a battle of attrition, you don’t win against someone who has played so much of his cricket on the most lifeless tracks in the world in Saurashtra.

If O’Keefe bowled around his leg-stump, Pujara was happy to intercept it with his pads absorbing pressure, over after over, like a porous sponge absorbing water. This reflected in his numbers too, Pujara played 215 deliveries from O’Keefe, the most number of balls faced by any batsman off a bowler in a Test innings since 2000.

PUJARA IN 2016-17 HOME SEASON

  • Matches: 12
  • Runs: 1259
  • Average: 66.26
  • Centuries: 4

At one point during Pujara’s marathon innings, former Australian opener and now commentator Matthew Hayden admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to stay that quiet for so long without hitting the odd boundary. But this was Pujara, he knew how pivotal his stay in the middle was.

All wasn’t as rosy for Pujara though as right before lunch on day four, he missed a delivery that was angling in from Nathan Lyon and was given out LBW. But, with a redefined sense of the use of DRS, Wriddhiman Saha asked Pujara to review that decision and viola, the ball-tracker showed that the ball would miss the leg-stump.

The afternoon session post that was all Pujara. On a murky day, watching the opposition inch closer to their massive total, Australia seemed flustered. They were waiting for things to happen. Pujara and Saha, juxtaposed to that, were making things happen.

As he directed one past the short-leg fielder and ran his 200th run, for a brief moment, the zen-like monk in him took a backseat. Having batted for 521 deliveries then, and over 11 hours, the kid in him pumped his fist, leaped in the air and exulted in joy.

He had done it, he had resurrected a scuppered boat by absorbing everything that the ocean of hardship had to throw at him.

Four balls later, he flicked one to Glenn Maxwell at short mid-wicket and ended the longest occupation of the batting crease by an Indian batsman at 202 runs off 525 balls. Immediately after that, he thumped his bat on to his pads in disappointment. He wanted to bat longer, gee, this hunger for excellence!

In an age where big-bicep batsmen pummel balls to unimaginable distances and hog all the attention in the process, it is tough to be a vintage Test batsman. But, when it is time for operation right-the-ship, guess where is everyone looking? In the Indian dressing room, it is at the impregnable Cheteshwar Pujara.

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INSIDE STORY: Travelling through time at Blades of Glory

Jarrod Kimber 20/03/2017
The museum has thousands of items.

"You can hold them if you like?" says a tour guide. The “them”, isn't just anything, it's a collection of some of cricket's most sacred items. Bats the players used in their triple centuries. Chris Gayle, Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene and Michael Clarke former owners of just some of the willow you can yield. I, and probably just about everyone else who comes through, instantly tries to work out which one is their favourite. For most it’s Sehwag’s, for me it’s Jayawardene’s.

I’m at Blades of Glory, the cricket museum in an Old Pune apartment complex, run by the real estate magnate Rohan Pate. The museum has signed items, match used items, Sunil Gavaskar’s experimental bat with holes through it, and an entire room dedicated to Virat Kohli.

But when I meet Rohan, he takes me to the upstairs section. If downstairs is incredible, upstairs is the beating heart of cricket. He takes me to the shirt room, which has so many that you can barely trawl through them all, and on the wall behind you is a collection of stumps used in international games. And by collection, I mean over a hundred. Another room has pads from Boycott and gloves from Gilchrist and Dhoni. And then there is the bat room.

The Batcave has nothing on this room. The first thing you see is a century – I think this is the correct collective noun for a bunch of Sachin Tendulkar bats.  If that was all there is, it would be spectacular. But he has Miandad, Warner, Hutton, Ponting, Bradman and DeVilliers too. The room, from roof to ceiling, is just bats. Clive Lloyd, sure, why not? Virat Kohli, yes, go on then. It is all there, and just standing amongst them is amazing, but then Rohan insists you pick them all up. As you pick up one, and just start to feel it in your hands he has already found another one, a Lawrence Rowe or Hasim Amla, perhaps, for you to try. This all started in 2010, when Rohan, a massive cricket fan, was using Sachin Tendulkar as a brand ambassador for his company. “I asked him for a used bat of his because I also played cricket. And everyone would want something from him. So the first bat I got from him was a used bat. I never thought I would collect other bats, but then I thought if I can get Sachin's bat, why can't I get others?” Two years later Sachin was at the opening of Rohit’s museum, and now he has over 12,000 cricket items. It’s impossible to know the true worth of this museum, as everywhere you look there is something phenomenal.  I see a pink ball above Rohan’s desk, and pick it up. Rohan tells me how he got it. He had invited some match officials to the museum - Rohan invites everyone to the museum - and when they came, John Rhodes (an ACSU official) told Rohan that he had an item for him. The ball in my hand, wasn’t just a pink ball, it was a pink ball used in the first ever day-night Test, and because Rohan is a completionist, he then went and got it signed by both captains. It isn’t even on show yet, and is sitting without any case just two shelves above Malcolm Marshall’s boots.
That is more than just a museum, that is history in your hands, you’re touching one of cricket’s holy relics. That is Blades of Glory.
This is currently a humble museum, but Rohan has huge plans for it. “Since last year I'm feeling that there is so much that you can't showcase, so I want some to get four or five acres off the highway, so it's accessible to Mumbai as well. I want to build a museum there, a coffee and gift shop, the sort of place people spend their day. I want to get it done within six months and move everything over. I also want to collect as much as I can in the next five years I am so far ahead of any other collectors, no one can catch me for the next 200 years." Rohan spends a lot of time naming bats he likes before stating his preference, “I always used to have a heavy bat. I would love a Gayle bat or Tendulkar bat. So it just comes down, thwak," he motions smacking one for six, "and it's out of the ground.” Getting things off player is not so easy as a heavy bat whacking a ball. “For older players it gets hard. Andy Roberts told me that his old stuff was starting to smell so he'd thrown it out in the garbage. I said what the hell, you should have called me. I would have come personally and collected it.  Many of the player's wives think that these things stink, they occupy the space, and they want to throw it away.” With the younger players, often in the prime of their careers, they don’t want to give something away to some strange guy they’ve met in a hotel. “Joe Root was a kid in 2012, I asked him if I can have something, and he said no. This guy who has not even made his mark in the international game is saying no to me. But over the years as he has matured and come to know me, so he gave me his bat and shirt on the last tour.” Over 300 international players have visited the museum, “Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Andy Roberts, Wasim Akram, Karun Nair, Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, Brett Lee, Kumar Sangakkara, and Mahela Jayawardene”. And once they come, they are just as captivated as the fans who arrive. “Now a lot of these players say, it's an honour to have our stuff in the museum, because after we finish up, no one is gonna ask us.  So if you see their items in a museum, people will remember them”. Unlike other cricket museums, Rohan doesn’t focus on one nation; he focuses on cricket. If a player is from Holland (yes, he has Holland stuff) or Afghanistan (yes, he has a Shapoor Zadran shirt) it doesn't matter. If it is from an international cricketer, he will take it. “I never say no to anyone or anything; I take everything. A few years back I collected a shirt from Quinton de Kock, and the South African physio told me, ‘What are you going to do with stuff from this kid’, and now that kid is doing so well. And you don't know after they become a star if they still give you something.”

A brief history of Blades of Glory

  • Opened in 2015
  • Museum is in Pune, India
  • Spread across 4,000 sq ft building
Rohan’s great white whale is Brian Lara. “Lara I am looking for, of the 375 or 400. I have tried to speak to him. It's not that he, or other cricketers are rude, it's that everyone wants something out of them and they think that someone will want to sell it and make some money from them. They don’t know my intentions. One day I will convince Lara to come to the museum, because once they see the museum, they will understand. I want to reach a level where like Lord's, if I ask for a bat, they won't say no.” Rohan has some favourites. “World Cup final shirt of Sachin Tendulkar. All World Cup winning bats signed by entire squad from 1975 to now. All the world cup winning captains signed on one bat. Malcolm Marshall shirt. Philip Hughes shirt signed. He had promised me a bat next time I saw him.” I have my own favourites, his collection of Wisdens is lovely. Oh, and the pink David Boon shirt.  Neil Harvey’s bat is very special, and so is his many boxes of cricket ties, albeit in a different way entirely. There is a newer bat was that made in the style of the original bats that resembled hockey sticks, and Boycott’s Ashes tour bag was cool. Not to mention picking up Viv Richard’s bat. I could go on and on. After almost two hours there, rifling through Rohan’s upstairs cricket utopia, I have to leave, but not before I tell him what a special thing he is doing here. As I leave I go over and pick up the first item you see when you walk in, it’s just sitting there, in the middle of the main museum room. It’s Sachin’s bat. And for 50 rupees, anyone who comes to Blades of Glory, can pick up the bat of one of the greatest cricketers who ever lived. That is more than just a museum, that is history in your hands, you’re touching one of cricket’s holy relics. That is Blades of Glory.

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