While watching Cheteshwar Pujara during a practice session, you realize that he’s just not fascinated with batting; he loves talking about it too. Almost with the same zest. And when he’s not spending hours working on his game in the nets, he’s either picking the brains of a teammate about the finer points of batting or lending a keen ear to a senior player’s suggestions.
Like on Monday at the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) ground in Hubli, where he indulged in a lengthy discussion with Gautam Gambhir regarding the pros and cons of an exaggerated back-lift along with the issue of the transfer of body weight. In Shimoga last week, meanwhile, Pujara was seen handing throwdowns to the likes of Parvez Rasool and Saurashtra teammate Sheldon Jackson, as the two right-handers worked on fine-tuning their driving techniques.
With his own batting, the India A skipper can seem like a research scientist working on a cherished thesis, trying his best to eliminate the loopholes and make it as fool-proof as possible.
Another aspect of the 25-year-old’s cricket you realize is that he hates getting out. Even in the nets. Doesn’t matter if his stumps have been knocked back by a net bowler chucking balls at him from around 18 yards or a spinner trapping him on his back-foot. Not that it occurs too often.
So it wasn’t surprising to see Pujara almost disgusted with himself after he top-edged a slop sweep into deep square leg’s hands on a placid track in Shimoga last week. And more so as he had looked at ease till then, cruising to 25. That setback had come on the back of two low scores in the first unofficial Test in Mysore.
under the radar
But such was the hype around the cheap dismissals of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, not to forget Pujara’s inherent ability to remain unsung, that the Saurashtra run-machine’s third straight ‘failure’ quietly slipped under the radar. Not as far as Pujara’s concerned though.
So prolific has he been over the last 12 months, scoring 2039 runs at 78.42 in first-class cricket including seven centuries-two doubles and one triple-that it is almost inevitable that he will be in the runs once again. The last time he went without a half-century for more than three innings during that phase, he responded with scores of 203 not out and 352 in the Ranji Trophy. If anything statistics prove that Pujara is due a big one as India A clash against West Indies A in the third unofficial Test in Hubli on Wednesday.
While Pujara has scored runs against all-comers during his golden run, the spinners have suffered the most, especially during his Test innings. And he averages 63.44 while scoring 571 runs off them, and has been dismissed on nine occasions. Out of those nine though, they have managed to get him out cheaply more often than the seamers. From Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar to even Nathan Lyon.
Ironing out flaws
And so far against West Indies A, it’s been Veersammy Permaul who seems to have had an edge over Pujara, getting rid of him before the India A skipper has gotten his eye completely in. But Pujara was seen working extra hard against Bhargav Bhatt and a local left-arm spinner, especially working on the sweep shot that has let him down on two occasions already.
Following this series against the two Tests against the senior West Indies team though will be his real test with India set for series in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia over the next 14 months. And Pujara feels that he’s ready to replicate his successes overseas as well.
“Each country will have different conditions. Obviously if the South African tour is there, the good thing for me is that I have played two Test matches over there. I know how the conditions are, how to score runs, what kind of changes I have to make in my technique. I haven’t been to New Zealand but I have heard that there is a lot of wind over there. I am positive of scoring in England and Australia as I’ve done so already (for India A),” he said.
For now though, Pujara is intent on setting his record straight against West Indies A. And he has his eyes set on making up in a big way. Permaul & Co beware.