Pujara of the old stands up and delivers

India's Cheteshwar Pujara in action batting Action Images. Reuters photo

This English summer has been a punishing one for Cheteshwar Pujara. From the time he stepped his foot here in April to play for Yorkshire in the County Championship Division One till the first innings in the ongoing Test match against England, the Saurashtra cricketer has repeatedly failed to find the fruits of hard labour.

 Labelled old-school and slow — at times even for Test cricket — Pujara could only muster a mere 172 runs in 12 innings for Yorkshire, averaging a poor 14.33. Those numbers made it easy for the Indian think-tank to drop him from the first Test at Edgbaston but upon return for the second Test, Pujara failed to make a strong enough impression, becoming a part of the wreckage at Lord’s.

He arrived to bat at Nottingham on Sunday in near perfect conditions. Openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan had given the team a good start and with the pitch set to ease out in nice, crisp sunshine, the stage was set to turn the tide. But, feeling the pressure to score runs, he played an uncharacteristic hook at the stroke of lunch to perish for 14. The disappointment on his face and his skipper Virat Kohli at that moment was there for all to see.

He had yet again thrown his wicket away after having done all the hard work. He had got his eye in, had an understanding of how the pitch was behaving and had a measure of the opposition’s bowling attack. But he frittered it away in one moment of madness. While he did that again in the second innings, at least he had scored 72 runs — his highest score in England and much-needed second half-century.

The second innings performance showed Pujara of the old. Although there were some early nerves when he poked and prodded, he hung in there gutsily. He weathered the early storm in his own dogged way, listened to suggestions from skipper Virat Kohli at the other end, and then played an innings that finally brought some cheer to him and the team.

Pujara felt he was confident the grinds of a tough summer will have a rich harvest eventually. “I think I was always confident although I didn’t score too many runs in County cricket. But I was playing on challenging pitches. I always felt that I was batting well especially in the nets, especially the way I was timing the ball. I was very confident that I was up for a big one. The way I batted in this innings, I felt that whatever I was working on in the nets, it came along. Really pleased to score those 72 runs, valuable 72 runs for the team.”

The 30-year-old felt trusting one’s technique is crucial during hard times. “You just need to trust your technique, your temperament and be confident. Playing county cricket did help me. I’ve learnt a lot and although, as I said, I didn’t score too many runs in red ball cricket. The kind of time I spent here, in the last few years I enjoyed playing county cricket which has helped me deal with such conditions. Ultimately wherever you go, especially for all the Indian batsmen when we play away from home, whether England, South Africa or Australia or New Zealand, I think we just need to trust our technique. Everyone has a different technique, everyone has a way to play. We just need to play the way we know as batsmen.”

 It’s heartening that Pujara has found his harvest. He needs to now use them generously over the next two games —must wins for India.

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