Cheteshwar Pujara’s ability to bat hours on end, scoring massive amounts of runs in the process, has become something of his signature. He has played the longest innings by an Indian in Tests. And his tally of 1611 last season is a national record in first-class cricket. So when he goes through a lean patch, questions are raised.
In August, after the end of a productive series against Sri Lanka, Pujara went to play in England. But he returned home with a top-score of 34 after as many as seven trips to the middle and wasn’t his usual self in the Ranji Trophy either, his first two innings yielding 35 and 13.
“Sometimes, people expect a lot out of me because I have the habit of scoring big runs.” Pujara told DNA. “The expectation is that I should score a hundred every second or third innings. It is difficult to always fulfil that.”
Runs in the pre-season are a vital part of Pujara’s success. Upon his return from a difficult tour of West Indies in 2016, when he was dropped from the XI, he struck 166 and 256 not out in two Duleep Trophy matches. They were vital innings, he felt, and paved the way to his becoming the highest run-getter in the world in 2016-17.
Now, with two weeks to go for the home Tests against Sri Lanka, he made his 12th double-hundred, which is another national record. With less than a week for the first ball in Kolkata, he raised further alarms with an innings of 182.
“The moment I start scoring big runs, as a batsman, my rhythm comes back and my concentration improves,” Pujara said. “Everything looks good. I feel good when I start scoring big runs. So, it is a perfect start before I head into the Sri Lankan series.”
He maintained that his low scores prior to his back-to-back daddy hundreds weren’t the result of lack of form. “The thing was I was playing on some tough pitches in England when it comes to county cricket. All the matches were on challenging pitches and most of the games were low-scoring ones. I accepted my failures and I did learn so many things out of it.
“It wasn’t that I was going through a bad phase or that I wasn’t timing the ball well,” Pujara said. “It was just a time where I had to stay patient. I was playing on tough pitches and if I get a good ball, just accept it and learn new things, what are the things I can still improve on and then start scoring runs again.
“When I came back to India, in the first game, I had a little bit of jet lag but I was batting well and got good start and got out playing a bad shot for 35 (against Haryana). Even in the next game (against Jammu & Kashmir), I looked in good touch but I made a mistake and got out (for 13). So, overall I knew I was batting well.”
The turnaround time between the end of the Sri Lanka series and the start of a new one in South Africa is very little. India play their last match at home on December 24 and have little over a week to acclimatise to alien conditions before the Cape Town Test begins on January 5. However, Pujara is usually only picked to play Tests and the last one against Sri Lanka ends on December 6. So he will have a little extra time to tinker with his game.
“I will also be preparing for South Africa, for sure, when time permits.” he said. “When you travel abroad, you have to alter a few things. Obviously, the basic things remain the same. You have to have different preparations depending on the country you are visiting. If you are going to South Africa, there are certain things that I know that I need to do to perform well there, and I will work on them. I have played enough cricket in England that when we go there [in July-August 2018], I know the things I need to do there.”