'I am conscious of my fitness now' - Pujara
India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, who played the last of his three Tests in January 2011 in South Africa, is eager to make a comeback to the Test side and following his injury problems, his focus is on fitness.
"I am very conscious about my fitness now. I am aware and try my best to avoid injuries," Pujara told DNA. "I have a fitness routine and I follow it religiously. It hurts when I miss a training session. The best chance to avoid injuries in cricket, where you throw yourself on the field, is by trying and following certain training programmes."
"I am following a schedule prepared by the NCA physios. I am working on strength and stability."
After making a dream debut against Australia in 2010 - where he scored a matchwinning, fourth-innings 72 - and being part of the team that later toured South Africa, Pujara was sidelined for much of 2011 with a knee injury.
Pujara had a modest Ranji Trophy season with Saurashtra last year on his return, managing only 200 runs with two half-centuries. But the recent India A tour of the West Indies - he was the top scorer with 252 runs in three matches in difficult batting conditions - renewed the selectors' faith in him and he was included for India's Tests against New Zealand.
"It feels good. I've worked really hard for this. Now that I have got my chance, I want to bat the way I did on my debut against Australia. I was also part of the squad to South Africa. I didn't get too many runs there, but it was a great learning experience. I got a feel of Test cricket in 2010 and I want to use that confidence and start all over again. Unfortunately, I was out for six months but then injuries happen. The good thing is that I am fit now. I did well for India 'A' in the West Indies."
In the first match against West Indies A in Barbados, Pujara followed up his first-innings half-century with an unbeaten 96 that helped India A to fashion a dramatic two-wicket win. He scored another half-century in the second match.
"The conditions were tough; the wickets were up and down. The ball jumped from a good-length spot and it was difficult for the batsmen to adjust," Pujara said of the West Indies series. "But I never let the conditions affect me. I backed myself and played my natural game. I knew a good tour would help me get back into the Test side."
Pujara made his first-class debut seven years ago, and since then he has amassed 4639 runs at an average of 53.32. But the New Zealand series will be an important one; he might especially be scrutinised now, with India looking for a replacement for Rahul Dravid and there often being comparisons made between the two players. But Pujara wants to just focus on his game: "I think there shouldn't be a comparison. Rahul Dravid scored more than 10,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs. And I have just started off. But I respect the faith people have in me."