(Photo: Getty Images)
By Guy Williams
India run-machine Cheteshwar Pujara says he is ready to back up captain Gary Ballance and the batting core at Yorkshire with an approach that is calmness personified.
A quick glance at the Indian’s first class record explains why Yorkshire were so keen to re-sign him after the favourable impression the prolific right-hander made in 2015.
Ranked seventh in the ICC table, Pujara has scored more than 13,000 runs, averaging 56.42, and has compiled 44 centuries. In 57 Tests, the 30-year-old has patiently scored 4,496 runs (50.51) which include 14 centuries.
However, what stands out significantly is Pujara’s ability to bat on and on once he’s reached three figures. Not only has he struck three Test double hundreds – one against England (206 not out) and two against Australia (204 and 202) – Pujara’s calm style has enabled him to score three triple centuries in first-class cricket – only the ninth to achieve that landmark.
In 2015, Pujara made only four Championship appearances for Yorkshire, but in his short stay became a popular player in the dressing room, even more so when he scored 133 against Hampshire at Headingley.
Now, the Indian star will be here for longer, playing in the opening five Championship matches and in seven one-day games in the Royal London Cup before returning home to prepare for India’s Test against Afghanistan, starting on June 14.
Yorkshire hope that he will be available for some of the remaining Championship games in September.
Inevitably, India will rely heavily on Pujara’s runs later in the summer during the Test series against England, beginning in August, but before that his thoughts are concentrated on Yorkshire.
“I had such a wonderful time in 2015 that I wanted to come back. The atmosphere was something which stood out for me and when I came back, they were still calling me Steve because it’s difficult for them to pronounce my Christian name.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of batting in English conditions. When you score runs on difficult pitches, you are more confident and satisfied. Sometimes when you score only 50, it’s helpful to the team.
“Looking back, when I scored 50 (179 balls) against South Africa at Johannesburg in the third Test in January, it was really more satisfying than scoring a double hundred against England.
“I took about 40 or 50 balls to get off the mark on a wicket that was one of the toughest I’ve played on. So in England, you need temperament, a lot of concentration and you need to be focused for hours and hours. Patience is the key when the ball is doing a bit. You need to leave the ball well and, during the first 20 to 30 overs, you need to be really careful.
“I had to work very hard to get into the Indian team. We had so many experienced players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Sehwag, so you needed special qualities to break into the side. So when I scored hundreds, it wasn’t enough and I had to score double hundreds and afterwards I realised if I had the opportunity, why not score a triple hundred?
“I do agree that the shorter format is taking over and modern-day batsmen want to play shots from early on. But I feel there’s still enough room for guys with the right technique and temperament.
“When you bat in challenging circumstances you can’t keep playing your shots because you need to assess the pitch. If you are three down and you keep playing your shots, you’ll be five down and it doesn’t help the team.”
Such an old-fashioned approach (England, take note) will be seen repeatedly in the forthcoming Tests in which India, currently ranked No.1, will be determined to flourish rather than flounder as in 2014 when they lost 3-1.
Remarkably, Virat Kolhi, now skipper and the ICC’s No.2 bat in the world, failed completely, only scoring 134 runs at 13.40.
But Pujara said: “He has improved as a player since 2014 and Virat’s record is phenomenal. I think he’s gone into a different league now and I can tell you that he’s motivated to do well in England.
“I think it will be much closer than in 2014, the guys are more experienced and we’ve played enough cricket away from home, like in South Africa and New Zealand. It will be almost the same team as then, so most of them will have learned from their mistakes.”
With the exception of skipper Gary Ballance, Yorkshire’s batsmen failed to perform last season, so coach Andrew Gale is delighted the county have signed a genuine world-class bat.
“We’ve been crying out for someone to be consistent at three which is where he will bat,” he said. “That’s where Pujara is most successful. He’s a great bat who puts a price on his wicket.
“He’s old school and not fazed by how many balls he’s faced. Pujara’s hungry for runs, he has real greed and when he gets in, he goes big.
“And he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in the game. He’s really calm, has time for everyone and he’ll fit into the set-up really well.”