Sometimes it is hard to explain the yardstick by which cricketers are measured. Some get away with a lot, others with very little. In the case of Cheteshwar Pujara, it must all feel a little too bittersweet after returning back home a hero from the tour down under.
As reports filtered in about Pujara scoring heavily for Saurashtra in the Ranji trophy to take them into the final against Vidharba, ironically while their opponents, Karnataka, accepted the umpire’s verdicts on the field, the fans were less forgiving, labeling India’s number three Test batsman a ‘cheat’ no less.
Returning home from the successful Australian tour where Pujara formed the bulk of the framework that allowed India their first overseas win in over seventy years, while it should have hailed as something out of a textbook for the player to insert himself almost immediately into his domestic cricket duties when other cricketers and his peers have chosen to brazenly shun their appearances for India’s domestic circuit, Pujara found himself standing up once more to stiff criticism, blocking out the noise.
Pujara’s success down under was hard fought in that he did not have an easy time in South Africa or in England when he did not seem to enjoy the faith of the skipper-captain duo of Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri who chose to dangerously drop their pivotal number three anchor against all logic in the course of both tours, even if Pujara appeared to be struggling to get into his stride in favour of more reckless, less reliable batsmen.
Eventually after two overseas series and two golden opportunities lost, the Indian think tank appeared to have wizened up, ensuring Pujara played every Test and thereby, giving India every opportunity to tilt the scales in their favour, even when Kohli’s bat fell silent in comparison.
However, stupendous success does not assure respect instantly, as Pujara will have learnt the hard way. Having copped criticism for being a slow run getter when he was doing his job as the number three to lay a rock solid foundation, now he faced the ignominy of being called a cheat simply because he stood his ground which is his right as per the rules of the game. With the catches being called null and void by the umpire, Pujara had every right to stand his ground and wait for the umpire’s decision. Pujara followed the rule book, although it brought back the contentious issue of walking, considered gentlemanly in some quarters and perilous to the batting team for not following the law to the ‘T’.
Walking had become a controversial standpoint which divided the Australian team from Adam Gilchrist even at the height of Australia’s dominance. With Gilchrist choosing to walk away without being dismissed by the umpire when he felt he was in the wrong and had nicked the ball to the wicketkeeper, his ‘gentlemanly’ act – not required as per the cricket laws – put him at odds with the thinking that the team was losing a valuable batsman when the onus was on the umpire and the fielders to prove and decide the credibility of the wicket.
In this scenario involving Pujara, without conclusive evidence as attested to by the umpire’s decision and not challenged by the Karnataka team who accepted the result, it seems rather unfair that Pujara has become the target of a few self-righteous cricket fans when they have let slip other cricketers for far greater offences that go against the grain of the gentleman’s game.