Among the many revelations made my former chief selector Sandeep Patil following the end of his tenure is the apparent conversation captain Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble had with Cheteshwar Pujara in West Indies. Patil revealed that both Kohli and Kumble asked Pujara to quicken his strike rate.
Since then, there has been some debate about the Saurashtra batsman’s strike rate (48.46). Kohli was posed that question on the final day of the opening Test against New Zealand and Kumble was bombarded with the same as he addressed the media here at Eden Gardens on Wednesday ahead of the second Test. In the two games Pujara played in the West Indies, he made scores of 16 off 67 balls and 46 off 159 balls.
“Even I'm a bit old-fashioned,” remarked Kumble. “I know there is a lot of talk on strike-rate in the last eight years after the advent of T20. When I was playing, in Test cricket, strike-rates were mostly talked about for bowlers and not for batsmen.
That's how I like to look at it. In a team you need different characters, different quality players. Players whose skill-sets are suited to different challenges that happen in a Test match. Because we've seen that what happens in a Test match. That's the beauty about Test cricket. From my point of view, as far as I am concerned, strike-rates are relevant only for bowlers in Test matches.”
The former leg-spinner said he felt disappointed that there’s been so much talk on Pujara’s strike-rate. “Yes, Virat is right that someone like Pujara in the West Indies, probably on one occasion (played slowly). He only played two innings (there) and both those innings were relevant. Even in the first Test match, (Murali) Vijay got out cheaply and then he (Pujara) and Shikhar (Dhawan) had a good partnership till lunch. That was crucial for the team, because we went into lunch losing only one wicket.
“And we all know the importance of the first session of a Test match which is the first Test of a series. So the relevance of Pujara is there. But I’m really surprised and a bit disappointed that this talk keeps coming up. As long as someone reads the situation and plays according to the situation, that’s what is expected of him.”
Kumble opined that the pressure on Pujara is largely a creation of the media and the batsman is an integral part of the team.
“I don’t think Pujara has ever breathed easily, from all you guys’ (media) perspective and some people who are constantly watching him. At least from the team management and the team's perspective, there is absolutely no pressure on Pujara.
Like I mentioned earlier as well, he's a very important cog in our team and we've seen over the years his contribution. Even in the last Test match, we saw the importance of his contribution to the team's cause. So I don't see pressure on anyone in this team. The beauty about this squad is that there's hardly any pressure on anyone, yes there are roles and responsibilities but there's no pressure put on any player,” he remarked.
Kumble, meanwhile, welcomed Gautam Gambhir back into the team. “I think it's really nice to have Gautam back. Unfortunately (KL) Rahul got injured in the last Test match. I think for some reason something has been happening with the openers.
Vijay got injured in West Indies and now Rahul. It's unfortunate because Rahul was batting brilliantly. Having said that, Gautam has done really well in domestic cricket. He's part of the fifteen. I don't want to give away anything with regards to team combinations. All fifteen are available for selection. So it’s nice to have him back.”