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India vs England: Virat Kohli and co. better prepared for England than 2014, says Cheteshwar Pujara

As the Indian cricket team gear up for another Test series in England, this time under the leadership of their talisman Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara feels this bunch is ready to exorcise the ghosts of the last two tours.

cricket Updated: Jul 24, 2018 11:41 IST
Arnab Sen
Arnab Sen
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India vs England,Indian cricket team,Cheteshwar Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara believes his County stint with Yorkshire will help adjust to conditions ahead of India’s five-match Test series against England. (Getty Images)

In sports, just like in life, some achievements are bigger than others. While winning the World Cup is surely the Holy Grail of cricket, one can’t deny the high of winning a Test series away from home in challenging conditions.

For teams travelling from the sub-continent, winning in England, where the cherry moves at will, has always been special. The case is no different for the Indians who started their sojourn in international cricket with a trip to the British Isles way back in 1932, when India was still a British colony.

Since then Indian teams have travelled to England 17 times, tasting success only thrice and managing to draw a series once. The rest of the 13 tours resulted in defeat, with the ones in 2011 (a 0-4 whitewash) and 2014 (a 1-3 loss after taking the lead in the series) hurting India the most.

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As the Indians gear up for another Test series, this time under the leadership of their talisman Virat Kohli, one of the team’s batting mainstays feels this bunch is ready to exorcise the ghosts of the last two tours.

Cheteshwar Pujara spoke exclusively before leaving for England and the Test specialist believes India are better prepared this time.

“We have played a lot of cricket outside the sub-continent since our last tour of England in 2014 and that experience will come in handy. There have been some seaming tracks in India as well and most of the batsmen are experienced in handling the conditions now. We are better prepared this time,” the India number three said over the phone.

BANKING ON COUNTY EXPERIENCE

Cheteshwar Pujara has had his longest county stint this year, with Yorkshire, which turned out to be a mixed bag in terms of performances with the bat. But the Saurashtra batsman is happy with his preparations ahead of the big series.

“Playing county cricket is always helpful as it allows you to get used to the conditions. England is the toughest place to bat because you have to get used to the weather, and the seaming conditions.

“I don’t want to comment much on technique but this experience will definitely come in handy. The ball swings for good 40 to 50 overs in England and playing more in these conditions allows you to know where to focus,” Pujara opined.

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Talking about the mantra for success in England, Pujara believes that a batsman needs to persevere in tough conditions in order to play big knocks.

“Temperament is the key in these conditions. One should be ready to grind it out when the ball is moving. Once you settle in, you can gauge the movement off the pitch and in the air and that is when you can play your shots.”

DESIRE TO CHANGE RECORD OUTSIDE SUB-CONTINENT

There is no doubt about the fact that Pujara is a run machine. He is India’s most prolific batsman in Test matches played in Asia since 2013, having amassed 2845 runs in 31 Tests at a whopping average of 63.22, which includes ten centuries and 12 fifties.

But a look at his numbers outside the sub-continent during the same period, excluding West Indies since they are the whipping boys of the big league, reveals the true problem. Pujara averages a meagre 28.76 in 15 Tests with just one century to his name.

If India are to do well in England this time, they need runs to flow from Pujara’s bat and the top order batsman is confident of improving his record.

“I think as a cricketer you need to know what and where you can develop your game. Once you work on those areas you can get rid of the chinks. I have worked hard in the nets and I am confident things will change,” said Pujara, who has only one score of fifty plus in 10 innings in England.

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Often seen as the top order batsman who drops anchor while others play their shots, Pujara busted the myth about the management setting the role for him.

“There is no set role for anyone to be honest. You need to change your game according to match situations. When you play in difficult conditions, you have to play according to the merit of the ball.

“I know what things to do to succeed in this format and I play accordingly. The track also determines what kind of a strategy you have as a batsman, and that is why there can’t be any particular roles. As a team we discuss what needs to be done and that’s how we go out and perform,” he said.

HOW TO TACKLE ENGLAND IN THEIR BACKYARD?

Talking about Team India’s game plan against the hosts, Pujara stressed on the need to focus on the opponents as a team and not on individuals. When asked which bowlers or batsmen India will be looking to target, Pujara spoke about the pitfalls of focussing on individuals.

“You need to understand that they are a good team. You can’t have a strategy around two or three players. Anyone can be dangerous.

“As batsmen we know their seam duo (James Anderson and Stuart Broad) are tricky customers, but we have to prepare against the others too. Similarly as a bowling unit we will have to work on all their batsmen. Yes, some have been more successful against us but we will have a plan for all of them,” said Pujara.

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A close-in catcher himself, Pujara knows the importance of holding on to the cherry in a key clash like this. India have been guilty of spilling important catches in England in the past and he hopes those mistakes will not be repeated this time.

“We have discussed this issue at length. Our fielding coach spoke to us during the Test match against Afghanistan and we have been practising hard to improve our catching. It will have a big impact on the series and I hope our hard work will help us.

SPIN TO WIN FOR INDIA?

With the Indians playing a Test series at the fag end of the English summer, the spinners could get some help from the tracks, which have gone through the wear and tear of a full domestic season. Pujara too feels that the Indian spinners could have a say in the series.

“There is a possibility that the pitches might take turn. How much will it turn will depend on what kind of tracks are prepared but our spinners are talented and they could make a difference this time,” the top order batsman said.

On being asked about whether Kuldeep Yadav could be a game changer, Pujara decided to play it safe as the the young left arm wrist spinner’s selection has generated a lot of debate of late.

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“Kuldeep Yadav is a very talented bowler. I have played against him on several occasions and his variety makes him a difficult bowler to pick.

“I would avoid talking about his selection as that is the decision of the team management but as a player he is capable of doing well,” Pujara said.

TEST CHAMPIONSHIP - A GREAT BEGINNING

Talking about the Test Championship, the schedule for which came out earlier this year, Pujara said that as a Test player he is excited to see the amount of Test cricket that India will play as a result of ICC’s latest product.

“I am very excited about the Test championship. It is the way forward for the longest format and this will be beneficial for everyone. It will give a much needed boost to Test cricket.”

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He though was more guarded when asked about the merits of day/night cricket, since India is yet to agree to play one.

“I am not experienced enough to comment on its merits or demerits. It is a new format and opinion about it is still divided. It is too early to comment about day-night Tests,” Pujara signed off.

India start their five-match Test series against England from August 1.

First Published: Jul 24, 2018 08:49 IST