The way India’s Cheteshwar Pujara batted in the first go at Southampton, it surely put a lot of questions to sleep about his zeal as a top-class batsman.

Against a decent England attack, the India number three put on a show of absolute masterclass, as he went about his task with complete finesse. Watching the Saurashtra batsman toy with the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad was a priceless sight.

More than the innings of 132* alone, what Pujara displayed in the middle was that he too belonged to an elite modern-day league, a league of world-class batsmen. It was thanks to his last 50 odd runs, which enabled India to gain a slender lead of 27 runs, a margin which could have a defining impact later on in the game.

Gautam Gambhir, England vs India 2018, Southampton Test
Cheteshwar Pujara hits the form. Credits: Getty

He drove, caressed, cut and pulled with a clear plan in his mind. Batting with the tail, Cheteshwar Pujara ensured India got as many runs as they could. All this happened after comeback man Moeen Ali ravaged India with his off-spin on the second day, as England looked all over the visitors.

Where things stand now –

Currently, it wouldn’t be wrong to state England finds themselves slightly ahead, given their 233-run lead in the second innings. Considering India need two more wickets and with the stubborn Sam Curran still, there, things indeed look a tad tedious for India.

England v India 2018, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran
Sam Curran and Jos Buttler have led England’s rescue ship against India at Southampton. Image Courtesy: Getty

With the Virat Kohli-led side likely to chase a total around 250, it will require a special effort to level the series and keep things crisp for The Oval. However, this will need a golathian batting effort, and once again things could fall back on the shoulders of Cheteshwar Pujara.

India’s mainstay with the bat in the first innings needs to stick around once again and be the fulcrum around Virat Kohli. With plenty of time left in the game, the situation is ideal for Pujara to play his natural game and accumulate the runs once he gets his eye in.

Pujara’s gloomy fourth innings numbers –

If there were one aspect hindering Pujara as a top-class batsman, it would have to be his fourth innings numbers. The otherwise reliable batsman has had his fair share of issues during the tricky times of the fourth innings.

Across his career, Pujara has batted in the fourth innings on 17 occasions. In these 17 innings, the right-hander has a total of 460 runs at an average of 32.85. His unbeaten knock of 82 at Delhi against Australia on an absolute rank turner was his best-ever fourth innings effort.

However, if Pujara’s numbers are considered for the fourth innings away from home, they take a hit. Away from home, the India number three has a total of just 107 runs in seven innings. To make matters worse for Pujara, his highest score in the fourth innings of a Test away from home is 23, while he averages a paltry 15.28.

Since 30th Aug 2013, exactly five years since the start of the Southampton Test, Pujara’s numbers in the fourth innings look murky again. In these five years, as many as 12 Indians average more than Pujara in the fourth innings of a Test. Ironically, among those 12 are two bowlers in the form of Zaheer Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

England vs India 2018, Cheteshwar Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara needs to be the bridge for India towards the win at Southampton Test against England. Image Courtesy: Getty

In recent fourth innings –

Across the last few tours, India got involved in several tricky fourth innings chases. At Adelaide in 2014, Pujara got dismissed for 21, as Nathan Lyon castled him. Earlier this year in South Africa, his scores in fourth innings at Cape Town and Centurion read four and 19, both in losing causes.

The Verdict – 

It’s a no-brainer to state that for India to have any chances of winning this game, Cheteshwar Pujara will have to be the fulcrum against England. Probably his displays in the fourth innings of a Test is the only hindering factor in an otherwise superb Test career.

For India to level the series, that overall fourth innings average of 15.28 away from home will have to shoot up substantially. The calm batsman can surely take a cue out of his idol Rahul Dravid’s book on how to master a run chase, given the latter’s terrific knock at Adelaide way back 15 years ago.