Of all the things that went right in the Test series opener against New Zealand, Cheteshwar Pujara’s transformation from an obdurate accumulator of runs to a free-scoring batsman when needed must be the most pleasing for India captain Virat Kohli.
In a team teeming with flamboyant strokemakers, Pujara’s batting, built on a watertight defence and an unflappable temperament, is almost an anachronism.
India’s Test No 3 feels he has no obligation to quench the boundary-thirst of the home fans and believes defence is the best offence.
Rather unsurprisingly, the 29-year-old went unsold in the players’ auction for the Indian Premier League (IPL), and his strike rate, currently under 49 in Tests, led to his exclusion from the third game against West Indies last month.
But first in the domestic Duleep Trophy and now in the first Test against New Zealand, Pujara’s batting has been something of a revelation.
“Obviously he’s someone who absorbs pressure really well,” Kohli said of Pujara whose scores of 62 and 78 came with 50-plus strike rates in both innings. “After a certain stage in the innings, there comes a time when the team needs a few runs.
“That’s where we felt he has enough ability to capitalise. It was just about conveying to him.”
Kohli confirmed the team management had a chat with Pujara to finetune his game.
“We did not want him to go into a shell,” Kohli said. “We want Pujara to bat to his potential. Once he starts scoring runs along with the composure he already has, it becomes very difficult for the opposition to have control on the game.
“That’s all we wanted to convey to him.”
Batting at what is arguably the most important position in a Test line-up, Pujara’s form will be key to India’s success in their bumper 13-match home season and Kohli was glad the right-hander took the advice in the right spirit.
“He’s someone who really understands what the team wants and has worked really hard on his game,” Kohli said.
“We as a team and I as the captain really appreciate that he’s worked hard and hasn’t told us that ‘this is my comfort zone, I’m not going to get out of it’.”