Although he played an ODI way back in 2014, Cheteshwar Pujara still aspires to play white-ball cricket for India. The so-called ‘Test specialist’ reasoned that his preparation sometimes lags behind most of his teammates, who have been playing the ODI and T20I formats regularly.
The pandemic-enforced lockdown halted all sporting activities in India for around four months starting March 2020 last year. While the IPL took place in September-November and the Indian team played six white-ball matches before the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Cheteshwar Pujara found himself playing competitive cricket after a 10-month break.
“I still have aspirations to play white-ball cricket for Team India, there’s no doubt about that. Yes, at the same time, it becomes difficult when other guys are getting some match practice. After the lockdown, I didn’t have any match practice before the Australia tour so to prepare for that big series it became a little difficult," Cheteshwar Pujara said in an interview with Sports Today.
“Otherwise if there was no COVID, then there would have been some first-class games which I would have played. But because of the COVID lockdown, there were not many first-class games which I could play,” he added.
India’s 2020-21 domestic season didn’t commence until January 10 this year. Before the high-profile four-Test series, Cheteshwar Pujara played only the first tour game against Australia A, in which he scored 54 in the first innings and got out for a duck in the second essay.
“I only played one game before the Test series started. So as a batter, it was difficult to gain the rhythm, concentration. Early on it was difficult but as I started playing few more games, it took me a couple of Test matches to find the right way,” Cheteshwar Pujara, who was India’s second-highest run-getter with 271 runs at an average of 33.88, explained.
While the 33-year-old scored a gritty 43 off 160 balls in India’s first innings in Adelaide, his next three outings saw him register scores of 0, 17 and 3.
“Australian team did a lot of homework on what I did in the last series” – Cheteshwar Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara was the architect of India’s maiden victory Down Under, on the 2018-19 tour. Having faced a staggering 1,258 deliveries, India’s No. 3 emerged as the highest run-getter with 521 runs at an average of 74.43 with three hundreds and one fifty to boot.
He couldn’t replicate similar success this time around. But he more than made up for it by occupying the crease for long hours and tiring out the Australian bowlers. Along with hardly any match practice, Cheteshwar Pujara attributed his early jitters to the hosts having learned from the mistakes they made on the previous tour.
“Credit also goes to the Australian team because they did a lot of homework on what I did in the last series there. It wasn’t easy to break that gameplan, but after a couple of Test matches, I found my rhythm, concentration back, I trusted what I was doing and I was able to score in the last two Tests,” Cheteshwar Pujara concluded.
Cheteshwar Pujara aggregated 208 runs across the final two Tests. His 205-ball 77 in the second innings in Sydney and his 211-ball 56 in the final essay at the Gabba were of utmost importance considering the match situations.