View: Let Pujara be. Judge a batsman by his average rather than strike rate in Test cricket


Twitter is a dangerous place to be; maybe not life-threatening (mostly) but it’s full of rabbit holes and you never realize when you go down one until it’s late.

I experienced it recently when I got carried away and criticized one line of thinking in some unsuitable words. Although my argument was validated by several others, in hindsight, the words I used were simply unacceptable.

This is what I posted on Twitter: “People are criticising Pujara for scoring slow. Really? They were either sleeping since eternity, just born or don’t know anything about cricket (Test cricket seems beyond their comprehension). #AUSvIND #INDvsAUS”.

Having a minuscule following on Twitter, my words wouldn’t have offended anyone had another senior journalist, who has a substantial following, not liked my tweet (I can’t say if she agreed with my rant against people but nonetheless she liked it, probably understanding what I was trying to say).

As a result, the tweet reached a bigger audience and I got a couple of responses to make me realise that I literally killed the message that I was trying to send across by indulging in personal attacks on people who are unlikely to even read my comment. Sigh!

So, here is another attempt (hopefully in more appropriate words) at explaining why Cheteshwar Pujara should not be criticized for scoring at a slower rate.

Cricket is a unique game and full of eccentricities that one has to accept to be able to enjoy it. Especially, Test cricket. Just like we have to accept the quirks of the people living in the societies around us to be able to appreciate it. It’s much more than entertainment. It’s an indulgence. Like black coffee.

So is Test match batting. It’s boring and exciting, docile and attritional, easy and tough, all within the same match, sometimes within a day’s play too.

I wouldn’t go to the extent of calling Pujara the quintessential Test batsman because who decides what is quintessential Test batsmanship and what’s not. All batsmen are different and approach the game in their own way. As long as they are scoring big runs with consistency and have earned the right to be in the Playing XI, they are good Test batsmen.

If batting slow is the right approach, then what would you call Virender Sehwag’s style of batting? Was he any less of a Test batsman? He played his shots because he believed that was his best opportunity to score runs. He believed in dominating the bowlers and breaking their confidence.

Pujara is completely different. His modus operandi is to tire the bowlers down, make them impatient and more prone to mistakes. It’s like taming a wild horse. You don’t ride it immediately. You let it run wild and lose the raging energy in its muscles. Then when it’s tired, you take over.

Virat Kohli relies more on strike rotation, running hard between the wickets and finding boundaries in between. He neither goes berserk like Sehwag, nor deadbats the bowlers to tire them out like Pujara. Yet, he is one of the best-ever.

These are three different approaches and there are more but all of them are very exciting in themselves if one has the patience to understand the intricacies.

Using Pujara’s low strike rate in Test cricket as a basis of criticism is a clear case of impatience among spectators who are addicted to regular dose of T20 cricket.

Have a look at the
observation of Cricviz, a cricket analytics platform.

“According to our Expected Wickets model – which looks at ball tracking data from the grounds – the deliveries bowled to Pujara would typically have brought a rather different result. On average, those deliveries would have yielded 94 runs, a whole 44 runs more than Pujara himself actually managed in his innings. The average batsman is scoring almost double the number of runs Pujara did, given the same opportunities.

“Yet the point is, you don’t get given those opportunities. You earn them. The flipside of Pujara’s Expected Runs, were his Expected Wickets – on average, the deliveries he faced would have brought 2.6 wickets. To get the chance to face all those deliveries, which others would have perhaps put away, Pujara had to show a defensive ability which others could not.

“If Pujara was more like everyone else, India would be in a worse position. If everyone else was more like Pujara, they may still be batting.”

Pujara’s batting approach has a down-side. But which approach doesn’t?

If him batting slow at one end affects the batsman at the other end, as some people have claimed, it shouldn’t be a reason for Pujara’s criticism but the other batsman. Why don’t they bat the way they do and let Pujara do his thing?

For a complete all-round Test team, players with different approaches and capabilities are a must.

While looking at a player’s strike rate in Test cricket, it is also important to see what the bowlers are doing. A batman’s performance can’t be judged independent of the bowling attack.

This Australian bowling attack is arguably the best in the world at the moment. And after 2018-19 tour’s mistakes and learnings, they are far wiser about Pujara’s game. Unlike then, they are more patient with him and happy to allow him to play more balls. They are not making the same mistakes and sticking to their plans longer than the previous tour.

As for the criticism coming from former players who certainly have a better understanding of Test cricket than any random fan, there could be many reasons behind it.

If we take the example of Ricky Ponting, former Australia captain and one of the best batsmen of all time, criticizing Pujara’s scoring rate, could it be a case of him seeing Pujara through his own lens?

Ponting himself was a very busy batsman and probably sees that approach as a better one. The team he so successfully led in 2000s was full of shot makers.

Australians, in general, play aggressive cricket. The criticism could also be coming from the cultural perspective.

Same goes for all the former and current players who see Pujara’s low strike rate as a reason for criticism.

It’s not the first time that Pujara’s strike rate has been used as a means to criticize him. He has been through it before and is now probably more resilient to let it affect his confidence. He could take inspiration from Sehwag, who was panned for his carefree approach throughout his career.

To judge a Test batsman, average is a better metric than strike rate.

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