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Ever since Rahul Dravid hung his boots after India's disastrous tour of Australia in 2011-12, Cheteshwar Pujara has taken over the role of the coveted number 3 position in the Test team. Because of his batting position and his success in the longer format, the man whose spot he endeavours to fill in. Recently Dravid himself, when asked who reminded him most of himself, took Pujara's name. And that should spur the Saurashtra man on.
Dravid has enjoyed a massive success in England during his playing days. Six of his 36 Test hundreds came in England, where he made 1,376 runs in 13 Tests at an average of above 68. He was the best batsman during India's woeful tour of England in 2011. His three centuries were the only bright spots in a 0-4 rout. Dravid showed his class when the rest of the batsmen failed to deliver and the side was down with injuries.
Come July 9, at Trent Bridge, where India take on England in the first of the five-Test series, Pujara will be the cynosure of all eyes. And why not? So far, in the 24 Test innings that he has batted at No. 3, he has scored 1,412 runs at an average of 68.18 with six centuries, including two double tons.
The five-Test series in England, first since 1959, will be a real test of character and endurance and will determine the difference between a talented and a great side. If this young Indian side, without Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, fare well in the tour, they will embark on a new era in Indian cricket.
But this time too, there are a lot of concerns facing the Indian team. The batting remains a cause for worry, with only Virat Kohli and Pujara having done well on the tour of South Africa. The middle order has to step up in case of a top-order collapse. And that will provide Pujara a platform to showcase his strength and to once again prove why he is compared with 'The Wall'.
Emphasizing on Pujara's importance to India's batting on tour, India's former World Cup winning captain and legendary allrounder Kapil Dev said that his long occupation at the crease will be crucial.
"Pujara is ideal to play five-day cricket and five Tests. If he plays well, the result can come out in India's favour. Pujara can play the whole day, he has that temperament. I'm not saying Kohli is any less important, but Pujara is the key player for me."
While there are no question marks hanging over Pujara's performances at home, same feat needs to get repeated when he travels abroad. Of his 19 Tests, only six have been played on foreign turf, against South Africa in 2010-11 and 2013-14 and against New Zealand in early 2014. In those six matches, he has scored 371 runs.
Dravid, the man whose enormous void he is trying to fill, scored 21 of his 36 Test centuries on foreign soil and has the most runs in India's overseas wins than any other batsman. It will be interesting to see how Pujara will emulate Dravid in that regard.
With England having already lost the Ashes and their captain Alastair Cook facing the heat after the latest home Test series defeat to Sri Lanka, the stage is perfect for the Indians to exploit their weaknesses. And it's hard to look past Pujara in that role.