Reverse sweep. That shot doesn't figure too high in Cheteshwar Pujara's list of favourite strokes. For a batsman as conventional as he is, most of the modern day improvised shots are necessary evils, to be resorted to only when there is no other way out.
So, how does one explain
the Saurashtra batsman attempting a reverse sweep while on the brink of a double hundred against Karnataka on Wednesday?
He didn't try it just once; he played it quite a few times as he blasted an unbeaten 275-ball 261, studded with 40 boundaries, to put Saurashtra virtually into the semifinal of the Ranji Trophy.
"He was actually practicing for the ODIs against England. He played freely, hitting strokes all around the wicket. It was a fantastic knock," said an admiring J Arunkumar, Karnataka's batting coach.
Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra was even more emphatic. "It's a conscious effort on his part to prove he could play and succeed in all formats. And it's not just about this knock alone; he smashed an unbeaten 203 off 221 balls in his last match. So, there shouldn't be any doubts about his abilities to play the shorter formats," he said.
From India's point of view too, Pujara couldn't have shown this spark at a better time.
In the just-concluded series against Pakistan, India's top-order looked absolutely clueless against pace and swing. The attacking line-up sorely missed a batsman with an impregnable defence who could have seen off the new ball and held up one end.
"Pujara is just that sort of batsman. He has the technique as well as the temperament to weather the storm if the going gets tough. He can handle the new ball, play out a maiden if need be, find the gaps to rotate the strike, and open up later on," said Mitra.
The coaches are in agreement that the Saurashtra run-machine should get the No 3 slot in this line-up. "He bats one drop and would be comfortable in that position. That will give him time to settle down and play his natural game. Besides, having a batsman like him at that spot would help the team too," said Arunkumar, a former Karnataka opener.
Ready for challenge
Pujara himself has already made it clear he was ready for the latest challenge. "I did well in one-day cricket at the domestic level, and during the India A tour to England. So I am quite confident I can play the ODI format. I have proved that at the domestic level and now it's a question of proving the same thing at the international level," he said after he was picked for the ODIs.
"He has everything you need to succeed in ODIs. He got the Test specialist tag only because he played some long and patient knocks for Saurashtra. People were skeptic about Rahul Dravid too in ODIs… we all know how he shaped up," said Arunkumar.
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