Pujara geared up for SA test

Pujara geared up for SA test

Cheteshwar Pujara spent nearly half an hour of largely trouble-free time at nets on Friday at the Willowmoore Park. But on a couple of occasions Ishant Sharma reminded him of the testing road ahead, whizzing a couple of bouncers past his head.

Pujara certainly has the awareness of what to expect in South Africa, having played here three years back. But since then the Saurashtra right-hander has grown up in stature  -- from a rookie who walked out gingerly at No 6 in Durban and Cape Town to a solid batsman at No 3 with an envious average in the mid 60s.

This is India’s first series after an array of legends bid adieu to the game – the last one being Sachin Tendulkar in November – and the expectations on Pujara to lead the Indian batting are massive, especially after Indian batsmen succumbed without a trace of fight in the one-day series.

Pujara is aware of the rough days ahead, and is ready for the test. “I think when you are playing at the international level you expect fast bowling. But yeah the conditions are favourable for the bowlers and so it is a little challenging for us. But that is the important part as a youngster because when you want to grow as a cricketer you want to face challenges and learn out of it. It will be a challenging tour for us but I am well prepared for it,” said Pujara.

Frontline Indian batsmen looked utterly clueless against South African fast bowlers in the one-day series, particularly so against Dale Steyn. Steyn’s pace, bounce and almost freakish ability to procure outrageous swing had the Indians all at sea, and Pujara offered a way forward.

“I think the important thing here is that you need to adjust to the bounce and the lateral movement which is there on the wicket. So since I have played a couple of matches here, it will help me adjust better. Most of the times, with the Kookaburra, the ball does a lot early on. Once you get over that phase, it’s easier to bat and score runs. It’s important to not lose wickets against the new-ball,” he explained.

Pujara has also spent a lot of time in the middle – playing Ranji Trophy matches for Saurashtra and a couple of four-day games for India ‘A’ against the West Indies ‘A’ at Shimoga and Hubli.

In the last seven innings, Pujara has made two hundreds (113, 102), a double hundred (269) and a triple hundred (306 n.o.), underscoring the touch he has been in. The right-hander stressed on the significance of having a good match-time under his belt, going into the Test series.

“When you have some runs in the last few innings it does feel good. The kind of runs that I had in the last innings (269 against Tamil Nadu), the time I spent at the crease, it really helps me to improve my concentration and when you have the best of concentration it’s easy to adjust to the conditions.

“I have very good confidence in that sense that helps a cricketer to prepare himself mentally. When you are mentally prepared, then you are in the best frame of mind, and you have the best chance of preparing yourself on the field,” he detailed.

In a way, being not a part of the one-day series against South Africa too helped him, allowing him to spend a lot of time at nets preparing for the Tests. “I think the preparation time that I had here is also enough and should help me perform better,” he said.

That meticulousness has been a big part in Pujara emerging a dependable figure in a spot left vacant by a giant of our times – Rahul Dravid. It then came as no surprise when the ICC chose him for the Emerging Player Award, and Pujara felt it has been a just reward for the toil of the last year and half.

“The last one and a half years has been really good for me. I think I have become a matured player while playing against teams like Australia and England. It has also helped me because they have very good fast bowling.”

Pujara have been successful in taming them, and hopefully he will do the same to Steyn & Co.

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