Cheteshwar Pujara has been a silent warrior: Sachin Tendulkar – Batting maestro Tendulkar praises Saurashtra batsman's temperament and dedication; singles out Saha, Umesh as India's success stories of this fruitful home season
Cheteshwar Pujara was India’s best batsman in Australia series (BCCI)
Cheteshwar Pujara isn't someone who makes a lot of noise, both on and off the field. And, unlike most of his other colleagues in the national team, he won't be playing in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) this season because none of the eight franchises wanted him.
But if there's one man who knows the importance of having a batsman like Pujara in Team India probably more than anyone else, it is Sachin Tendulkar, who has turned India's fortunes around many a times during this playing career.
The Saurashtra man did exactly that in the Australia series, winning India the second Test in Bengaluru and getting the team into a winning position in the next in Ranchi that played a key role in India winning the series 2-1.
"Pujara has been a silent warrior," Tendulkar told a select group of journalists here on Thursday on the sidelines of launching his personal app.
"He has terrific temperament, is someone who is dedicated, disciplined and focussed. I have seen him from close quarters and I was impressed with what I saw. I knew then that this guy is there for a long time."
Pujara has shared partnerships with Tendulkar in 11 Tests and 13 innings with one century stand between them coming in the batting maestro's farewell Test against the West Indies in 2013.
The 43-year-old also lavished praise on wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha and the Indian lower order that chipped in with vital runs throughout the series.
"Incredible." That was Tendulkar's way of complimenting Saha's efforts in the season that included two centuries and crucial fifties in the lower order.
"These guys have played well at home in crunch moments that can decide the match and sometimes the series," Tendulkar added. "That was the difference. You can see both teams going neck and neck, and one team starts pulling away from it. You can see that happen, and that's what happened (with India)."
Looking back at 'tremendous' season
Tendulkar looked back with pride on the 2016-17 season, which India finished with 10 wins in 13 Tests and losing only one.
"The season has been tremendous for our team," Tendulkar said.
"There have been challenging moments, and those moments were when our Nos. 7, 8 and 9 contributed big time (with the bat). Those were critical moments when the Test match could have gone either way. When any team who has that kind of strength where the bowlers can go out and score those crucial runs, the wicketkeeper can go out and score a hundred for them, you become a solid side," Tendulkar said, his eyes lighting up.
While spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja expectedly took a lion's share of the wickets at home – 82 and 71, respectively – pacer Umesh Yadav was not far behind with 30 wickets.
Tendulkar said: "Somebody who bowls good reverse swing will always be effective in India. Because of the surface, the texture, there will be reverse swing. In Dharamsala, Umesh bowled damn good reverse swing. Umesh is the type of bowler who gets better the more he bowls. The last innings of the season he bowled was possibly the best spell.
"I think the way guys have shown discipline and commitment is tremendous. Thirteen Tests at home, I don't remember anything like that happening during my days. And someone like Umesh has played in 12 of them. For a fast bowler, it is really taxing. That shows, you have got to work on your body," he said.
Bench strength, India's strength
Tendulkar agreed that other teams were envious of the current Indian team, considering the bench strength that they possess.
"When we have the full strength, it is a good problem to have. Whom to leave out? That means your bench strength is really strong. That is how the champion teams are. I'm sure everyone is watching us the way we have played. To maintain and to stay at this level is something I am sure everyone is wanting to do and the rest of us are looking forward once they resume. I have got a lot of faith and confidence in our team," the former India captain said.
But Tendulkar, a veteran of many an exciting series against Australia, preferred to stay away from sharing his views on the conflict between India captain Virat Kohli and his Aussie counterpart Steve Smith off the field. In fact, he did not want to even react to questions raised over his absence in Rajya Sabha.
"There is nothing much to say other than what I have told you," Tendulkar said with a laugh when asked about the Kohli-Smith controversy. "The India-Australia series has always been exciting. You take 1998 to 2000 to 2004, it has always been exciting.
"There are a lot of things that happen on social media. We all are entitled to have our opinions. We decide what we want to react to and what we don't want to react to. If one reacts, that should not be considered as 'why is he reacting?' If one does not react, one should not be surprised. It is individual's decision."
Tendulkar was the last Mumbaikar to captain India to victory in his very first Test, before Ajinkya Rahane, standing in for the injured Kohli in Dharamsala, emulated him. When pointed out to him that a Mumbaikar, after a long time, has led India in a Test, Tendulkar could not stop smiling.
"The last Mumbaikar who led India to win in his first Test was myself in Delhi, India vs Australia, 1996," he said, before bursting into laughter.