Chance for Pujara, Kohli to step up

In the last few months not many cricketers have been the subjects of intense discussions as Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.

Much before they actually wore India flannels or colours, both Kohli and Pujara have been earmarked for success at the Test level, and the recent months offered signals that the expectations were not misplaced.

Already on his way to becoming a one-day legend, Kohli proved emphatically that he’s also a Test material with a hundred against Australia at Adelaide early this year, nailing a place for himself in the middle-order.

That transition from a limited-overs player to a mature five-day format batsman was not exactly a seamless one, as he had to endure several uncomfortable moments against West Indian and Australian pace bowlers. But then grit and Kohli have always been companions, just that his brashness sometimes masks that impressive side of him.

He had made a telling display of his character and intent in his first first-class season itself in 2006, coming out to bat immediately after the death of his father to muster a sparkling 90 against Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy at Ferozeshah Kotla.

Pujara’s story too is not so dissimilar. The Saurashtra lad had to withstand the agony of losing his mother early in his life, while constructing a career as a cricketer. A solid technique coupled with an imperturbable temperament helped the 24-year old to build some tall edifices of runs in domestic cricket, often emerging the leading scorer of the season since 2007-08.

A composed 72 that helped India notch up a victory against Australia in his debut Test at Bangalore in 2010 indicated a bright future till a debilitating knee injury kept him on the sidelines for a long time. But he didn’t disappoint the previous selection panel under K Srikkanth, scoring a hundred against New Zealand at Hyderabad in his return Test.

But these two young men will also have to deal with a different kind of pressure in the coming years, perhaps, throughout their entire journey as cricketers. Kohli will always be expected to deliver, a curse that follows immensely gifted in any sport. Some sportspersons will find a way to tame it, excelling in their field and we have examples of Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer, whose single-minded dedication blended well with their divine talent.

Then there are some other sportspersons, who never quite could come to terms with the fact that they have superior skills than others, and in that category we have Paul Gascogine and George Best.

Only Kohli can determine the group he finally going to end up in, but he hasn’t given a wrong signal as yet. Always willing to work on his batting, and ever-improving manners on and off the field indicate a worthy successor to Mahendra Singh Dhoni once the Jharkhandi decides to end his stint at the helm.

If Kohli has been setting comparisons, Pujara will always be compared with his predecessor at the number three slot – Rahul Dravid. It’s an impossibly massive shadow to move away from, and more than anyone else Pujara himself knows it.

"I don't think I can replace Rahul Dravid, because he is such
a legend,” Pujara had said recently, and it’s important for him to retain that knowledge in the coming years as well.
A Test average of just above 40 may be an indication of Pujara’s growing comfort at the one-down position, and batting with a free mind is the key for him to assert his presence there. At present, Kohli doesn’t have to deal with the pressures of comparisons, but that luxury may soon end.

Sooner than later, the Delhi lad will be asked to bat at number four, a position that belonged to Sachin Tendulkar for over two decades, and his numbers are staggering to say the least.

But then Kohli will have a man who already knows the hazards of getting compared to a legend for his company at number three.

However, before they inevitably form their association at three and four, these two youngsters need to prove that they can absorb the pressures of Test cricket consistently like their seniors did. England is as worthy a team as any other for it.

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