Features and Interviews
Dravid and I - by Cheteshwar Pujara
India's current Test No. 3 analyzes his similarities & differences with his predecessor
Even before he played his first match for India, Cheteshwar Pujara was touted as the heir apparent to Rahul Dravid, India’s greatest No. 3 Test batsman of all time.
Most of the comparisons were just the cricket lovers indulging in one of their guilty pleasures, of finding a way to keep the past alive by joining some of its dots with the future. But there are similarities in technique and temperament that can neither be ignored nor discounted.
Now, as Pujara prepares to embark on the toughest challenge of his Test career so far – the Test series in England – we, at BCCI.TV, asked him to analyze the technical similarities and differences between him and Dravid.
We asked him to base the analysis on five shots that were the hallmark of Dravid’s batting. What we got was a thoughtful insight from a young man who has a keen eye for technique and tremendous awareness of his own game.
Note: So far, in the 24 Test innings that Pujara has batted at No. 3, he has scored 1412 runs at 68.18 with six centuries (two double tons).
THE BACK-FOOT PUNCH
Before I started playing cricket, Rahul Dravid was the batsman I watched the most. I feel that the biggest similarity between our techniques is the back-foot play. That’s the reason why I believe my punch shot and cover drive on the back-foot are quite similar to his.
THE SQUARE DRIVE
The front-foot difference: I think his square drive was much better than mine is right now, mainly because he could play that shot even on the front-foot. I am good at playing the square drive on the back-foot but I haven’t tried doing it on the front-foot. It’s about picking the swing and the length early on.
You really need to be good at it to play the square drive on the front-foot because otherwise it puts your wicket at risk. These are the shots you try out in the shorter formats rather than in Tests. I have tried it out in the Ranji Trophy but not at the Test level, where the ball comes at a higher pace and the wickets have more bounce. It’s better to play it on the back-foot.
Dravid also had more time playing that shot because he had a slightly higher backlift than I do. With a higher backlift you can pick the balls from outside the off-stump and play them to the square. Also, you are in a better position to control the shot even if you want to play the ball to the point or third-man.
The initial movement: My initial movement is going on the front-foot and I saw Rahul Dravid do the same thing, although he did start to move back and across for a while in his career. I have always had the front-foot initial movement from the day I started to play cricket and I want to continue with that. It gives you the perfect balance whether you want to take a bigger stride to the front or go on the back-foot.
THE PULL SHOT
The Dravid and Ponting difference: The difference was that Ponting picked the length quite early and always looked to clear the square leg – he always wanted to go for a six rather than a four. Dravid tried to keep it along the ground and put more wrist in the shot.
The wristy affair: I usually try to keep the pull along the ground and I’m also trying to involve a bit more wrist in it. It’s not easy to hit the ball hard and simultaneously keep it along the ground with a roll of the wrist. So, right now all I do is just pick the right height to play the pull, so I don’t have to worry too much about keeping it down. I pick the right height and keep the bat straight rather than rolling the wrist, to ensure the ball travels at the same height and doesn’t balloon up.
Off the hook: I have played the pull shot mostly on the Indian wickets, which are on the slower side and against the bowlers who are not that quick. After I got out a couple of times playing the hook shot, I decided it was better to leave the hook alone and just play the pull. I can play the pull much better once the ball gets old and I get better control of it.
Pull on the front-foot: One thing Ponting and Dravid did, and what I try to do as well, is to play the pull on the front-foot. The rule book says that you have to pull the ball on the back-foot. But the modern day batsmen prefer playing it on the front-foot because you get better control of the shot.
Placing the pull: The thing with the pull shot is, the straighter you want to hit the ball, the earlier you need to play it. Rahul Dravid used to place it even through midwicket against a medium pacer. When you want to hit it early, the judgment of the length becomes even more crucial. I’ve tried doing that and realized that I am more comfortable doing so against the spinners. It is difficult for me to hit in front of the square leg against a fast bowler who is getting the ball to bounce substantially. That is one thing I am working on.
The masters: I have seen Rahul bhai play that shot very often and he played it so beautifully because his balance was perfect. Sachin Tendulkar was the best at that shot – he could play it from the off-stump as well.
The student: I am good at playing the on-drive between square-leg and mid-on. When it comes to placing the ball between the bowler and mid-on – which is a classical on-drive – I am good at it if the ball is pitched really full. So, on-drive is not my strength but I can play it well if the ball is full.
To drive like Dravid…: To play the on-drive like Rahul Dravid, I need to work on playing it on the rise, my balance and my backlift. A higher backlift helps you generate more power in that shot. I depend mostly on timing, and so, the ball doesn’t generally get past the bowler and the fielder. With a little more power – which he had – hopefully, I too will get better at that shot. That’s one shot which will always give you runs because you can’t have a fielder there. I have been working hard during my gym sessions, doing some strength work, which will give me more power. It will really help me in the ODIs as well.
THE FORWARD DEFENCE
Made perfect by practice: As long as you play with a straight bat, whether you’re playing a defence or a drive, you have more chances of hitting the ball. I have been playing competitive cricket since the age of 12 and have been scoring a lot of triple tons and big hundreds. That means I have played lots and lots of balls and have defended a plethora of them. So, my defence technique has become pretty solid over the years.
Positive in defense: Dravid was a perfect specimen of what a forward defence should be like. But now as the game is changing, players like AB de Villiers and others, play the forward defence not only as a defense but actually look to score off it – maybe work it around for a single. I too am trying to do that now because it means you are defending your wicket but at the same time, rotating the strike and getting runs. That’s also something Duncan Fletcher always stresses on – the importance of playing a positive defensive shot.
The big stride forward: The key is the stride. You want to make sure that you reach the ball and get as close to it as possible to negate the swing. Dravid had a bigger stride than I did earlier, and that’s something I’ve worked on. They say that at the international level, it is hard to get a bigger stride because of how quickly the ball comes at you. But if you can do it, it’s a big advantage. I worked on it and saw the positive result in South Africa against Dale Steyn. He bowls quick and swings the ball but if you can reach the ball with a big stride, you can negate him.
Features and Interviews
Exciting times for England and India: Strauss
Former England captain predicts tight series between two teams seeking redemption
The importance of this series grows multifold given both teams would look at it as a chance of redemption after a recent poor run in Test cricket. While England are smarting from their Ashes debacle and the subsequent upheaval in their personnel, including a new coach, India’s most recent Test record reflects twin 0-1 defeats, in South Africa and New Zealand.
MS Dhoni’s Team will also look for salvation after losing their last two Test series against England, home and away. Andrew Strauss, the man who led England to a 4-0 whitewash of India in 2011 at home, feels it will be a closely fought series.
“I’m really excited about it,” Strauss told bcci.tv. “It’s kind of a brave, new world for English cricket after the Ashes went horribly wrong, and now, we have some new players and a new coach. It’s the same for India because their recent record away from home has been really poor. The last time they toured England they lost 0-4 and will be keen to set that right.
“I believe we’re in for a really good closely fought series, and it might be one of those series where it comes down to one or two small sessions that determine the outcome,” Strauss said.
While England have their demons to conquer, the challenge will be significantly bigger for a young Team India in the difficult English conditions, feels Strauss.
“England has probably the hardest conditions for Indian players with the seaming and swinging wickets. It will be a challenge for India because the last time they were there, they had the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid and it still wasn’t enough.
“However, I quite like the look of some of the young Indian players – Virat Kohli has been outstanding and I think the bowling attack looks pretty solid,” Strauss said.
The inexperience of Team India can be gauged from the fact that only three members of the squad – MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma – have played a Test match in England. And Gambhir hasn’t played a Test since December 2012.
While Strauss thinks experience will tilt things in the left-hander’s favour, it will be a tough choice for the team management to decide on the opening combination among Gambhir, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan.
“Gambhir is a very talented batsman and his Test record is up there with some of the best,” Strauss said of the fellow left-handed opener. “The challenge with some of these Indian batsmen is to make a transition from T20 cricket to the longer form. Gambhir seemed to be able to do that in the past and that augurs well for him and the team. I’m sure a lot of people in India are pleased to see him back in the side.
“However, Murali Vijay looks like he can handle the new ball pretty well. It does boil down to the balance of the side and also whether Gambhir has earned the right to come straight back into the XI after having been out for a long time. I think a lot will depend on how the warm-up games go.
“His experience could go his way but it’s a very exciting time for him as he needs to re-prove himself as a Test cricketer and that’s a good motivation. If he gets some runs against the counties at the start of the tour, it’s going to be very difficult for the team management not to pick him.”