Ever since Cheteshwar Pujara returned from the West Indies tour last month, there was something unusual about his batting.
The Duleep trophy before the New Zealand series was a test for the Saurashtra batsman to get back in form. He had lost his spot in Test line-up owing to a slow strike rate of 23 in the Caribbean. His scores, 16 off 67 and 46 off 159, urged Virat Kohli to bench him.
But the moment he reached Greater Noida, Pujara employed a different strategy right from the practice. In the first game against India Green, Pujara scored 166 in 280 balls at a strike rate of 59.28. Pujara stepped it up further in the second innings as he scored 31 off 35 balls, playing at a rate of 88.57. In the final match against India Red, Pujara scored an unbeaten 256 off 363 balls and his strike rate was a touch over 70.
Pujara was doing things differently. One of the main aspects of his batting was to step down the track and attack the spinners. Against India Red, he stepped out nearly 40 times to the spinners to put them under pressure. The Duleep trophy proved to be helpful as Pujara continued his form against New Zealand at Kanpur.
In the first Test, he scored two fifties against the visiting Kiwis and he was seen jumping out more often. His 62 off 109 balls and 78 off 152 had strike rates of 56.88 and 51.31. While it might have come after the end of the first Test at Kanpur, there was an indication that Pujara might have been briefed by Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble.
“Pujara is someone who absorbs the pressure really well but after a certain stage in the innings there comes a time when the team needs runs,” Kohli said after the Kanpur Test. “That’s where we felt that he has the ability to capitalise. It was just about conveying that to him. He has worked hard on his game. He scored at a good strike rate in the Duleep Trophy.”
In November 2012 at Ahmedabad, Pujara got a double century against England in the first Test. He had played 389 balls, hit 21 boundaries and played at 52.95. A year later against Australia at Hyderabad, Pujara collected another double (204) in 341 deliveries at a strike rate of a shade under 60.
“Even on this wicket he was scoring at 65, almost 70 strike rate. It was a revelation to see Pujara bat that way. Because Pujara initially he used to bat like that, especially at home. If you see his double-hundreds against England and Australia, he dominated spinners. That’s exactly what we wanted him to do. We didn’t want him to go into a shell. We want Pujara to bat to his potential. Once he starts scoring runs to go with the composure he already has, it becomes very difficult for the opposition to have control of the game. That’s all we wanted to convey to him,” said Kohli.
“He’s someone who understands what the team wants. He has come back, and he is playing more positively. We appreciate his attitude as a team and me personally as a captain. He has not told us this is my comfort zone and I am not going to get out of it. That is the kind of characters we need to win games and series,” Kohli added.