Pujara: No need to change batting style, have backing of team management

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For someone who prides himself in batting long and batting big, India’s number three batsman, Cheteshwar Pujara, finds all the talk about his batting strike-rate baffling. Terming the constant talk over his batting style as ‘unfair’, the 32-year old reckoned that the team management had full faith in his abilities and he had their complete backing to bat the way he does.

Pujara has often faced flak over his so-called slow batting and even found himself dropped in favour of a third opener at the beginning of India’s tour of England in 2018. However, the gritty batsman played himself into contention and bounced back in style – smashing three hundreds during the tour Down Under later that year. Since then, Pujara started to cement his position as one of India’s most reliable batsmen and the whispers about his slow batting appeared to wither away.

However, the Saurashtra stalwart found himself facing backlash over his slow batting in the recently concluded Ranji Trophy final against Bengal, as he laboured his way to 66 off 237 balls. It did later emerge that the Indian number three was battling fever and throat infection and still managed to defy the visiting bowlers during the course of the match-turning 142-run stand for the sixth wicket with Aarpit Vasavada. The partnership ensured that Saurashtra gained the all important first-innings lead and a maiden Ranji title.

The affable batsman spoke to PTI on the sidelines of the Ranji Trophy and clarified that he indeed has the full support from the captain and the coaching staff of the Indian team. “I don’t think there is too much talk (on the inside). In media, it is described differently but the team management has been backing me on this completely. There is no pressure from the captain, coach or anyone else,” Pujara said.

“I just want to clarify that when it comes to strike rate people start pointing towards team management’s take on it but there is no pressure on me at all. The team management understands my style of play and its importance,” he added.

Pujara also found the perception about his batting amusing. Saying that he could never become a dasher, he said his main job was to bat time and win games for his team. “The question that was asked on social media (during Ranji final) was “why am I taking so long to score X number of runs”? Whether I pay attention to that? No, I don’t. My job is to make sure that the team wins at all times.

“People have this tendency to pinpoint one person but it is just not about me. If you look at any Test series where I have scored runs and taken a little bit of time, the opposition batsmen, most of them, have consumed the same number of balls. I know I can’t be a David Warner or Virender Sehwag but if a normal batsman takes time there is nothing wrong with that.”

Despite being in good nick, Pujara endured a tough time during the recent 2-Test series against New Zealand, aggregating a mere 100 runs from four innings. While acknowledging that some of the shot selections were poor, Pujara insisted that he set high standards for himself and as such the season gone by was modest. “People expect big knocks from me”, he said. “I always challenge myself to score a 100 but to average close to 50 in Tests means you are scoring a half-century almost every second innings. My standards are always high and I am not satisfied with the season that I had but I would not call it a bad one at all,” he added.

The advent of Twenty20 cricket has ensured that batsman in the mould of himself is pretty difficult to find in modern day’s cricket. It has also ensured long term injuries and lack of form, a concern Pujara noted and hoped that the talent pool of Test cricketers doesn’t dwindle with more competition from the white-ball format of the game. “If you look at India, Australia, England, the pool of players will be not more than 20-25 whereas if you talk about 10 years ago, India used to have 30-50 players who were ready for Test cricket. I am not saying there are no players available. But are they ready for Test cricket or not? That is the question,” the Indian Test number three noted with some concern.

The advent of fast paced cricket has got cricket back in as a mainstream sport, but Pujara believes that performances in the 5-day format of the game counts most. “May be the youngsters are not inclined towards this format. It is a fact that there are more games in white-ball cricket. A youngster would want to play shorter formats because it is financially better. There is nothing wrong with that but they should understand that real cricket is Test cricket and you will be judged only on the performances in the five-day game,” he concluded.

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