When Cheteshwar Pujara went in to bat at the India Blue nets on Saturday, it seemed he had a plan. The India batsman began by shouldering arms to the swinging pink ball. His defence too was impeccable. Later on, he started playing strokes.
Against spinners, Pujara jumped out and played lofted shots towards the end of his turn. Something seemed to be going in his mind. On July 30, India drew the second Test against West Indies at Kingston. Despite putting 500 on the board, India couldn’t win. Pujara scored 46 in the first innings but consumed 159 balls, at a strike rate of 28.93. KL Rahul, on the other end, was playing his strokes.
Not fast enough
Before the West Indies Tour, Pujara had said, “I am not worried about my scores. Even though I am not able to capitalise on a start, all those innings have been crucial for the team. It’s just a matter of converting a start into a big score and the confidence will return.”
After the match, skipper Virat Kohli pointed out that had Pujara scored a little faster, India could have had more time to try and get the Windies out twice. Though Pujara’s innings was a dogged show against the disciplined Shannon Gabriel and Co, he hardly looked confident enough to take on the bowlers. He was dropped for the next game, and returned in the last Test, which was washed out.
Team in trouble
At the Duleep Trophy, Pujara has returned to a similar situation. Heavy rainfall played spoilsport in the second match and India Blue earned just one point. Against India Green starting on Sunday, it’s a semi-final. Though Pujara’s presence will be a huge boost for the Gautam Gambhir-led side, a first-innings lead and time on hand will be important.
“Pujara is a big boost for the team. Watching a good player, you always learn something,” said India Blue pacer Mohit Sharma.
Holding one end up and providing solidity to the line-up are Pujara’s strengths. In previous games, the teams have lost wickets either to the new ball or against the old one under lights. Pujara has been a prolific scorer in domestic circuit and the pink ball challenge shouldn’t be any different. It remains to be seen how he paces his innings though. India Blue, after losing their first wicket at 151, lost 4 wickets in the space of 49 runs.
Pujara’s addition can help them stem the rot in the middle-order.
With the New Zealand tour starting on September 22, Pujara will be keen to score heavily in the Duleep Trophy to get back into form. Ever since he struggled in Australia in 2015, he hasn’t been able to cement his place in the side. Considering India’s long Test season ahead, Pujara’s good start might help him retain his spot in the Test line-up.