ODI call-up was expected, says Pujara
Over the last decade, the traditional route for Indian batsmen has been to make the limited-overs side and then, after success in that format, the Test team. Cheteshwar Pujara has bucked the trend. Long bracketed as a Test specialist, Pujara had to wait more than two years after announcing himself in the five-day version for his ODI call-up, despite a domestic one-day average that puts him second in the all-time list.
A top-order batsman, Pujara had to wait because of two major injuries and the presence of three senior players - Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir - who can open the batting, and the blossoming of Virat Kohli at No. 3. The ODI retirement of Tendulkar and the faltering form of Sehwag finally provided him the limited-overs opening.
Pujara also pushed his case by emerging as the highest run-getter in the Challenger Trophy, the only domestic one-day tournament so far this season. "I was expecting this call," Pujara said on the second morning of Saurashtra's Ranji Trophy match in Rajkot. "I did well in the one-dayers at the domestic level and when I went with the India A team to England (where he top scored with 332 runs in five matches). So I was quite confident that I could play the ODI format. I have proved that at the domestic level now it's a question of proving the same thing at the international level."
It isn't clear which spot in India's line-up will be available for Pujara, though. Ajinkya Rahane is set to take over as opener from Sehwag for the first three ODIs against England, and with Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni, the middle order also looks settled. "I'm hopeful of getting to play in the final eleven," Pujara said. "I may not get to do that in the first match but whenever. Not sure what the team strategy is but once I get to the team I will get to know what my role is. If given a chance, I'm very hopeful of doing very well."
Seen as a long-term replacement for Rahul Dravid at No. 3 in Tests, a format where Pujara describes himself as one of the mainstays in the batting, he says he doesn't feel any pressure to show he can thrive in the shorter versions. "I don't need to prove to anyone other than myself, I know that I can do it. I have done it at the domestic level, so it is just about playing the game properly than worrying about what people will say," he said. "If I'm not doing well today then tomorrow I can still do it, I'm young I have still got enough time to prove myself, I don't play cricket to prove anything to anyone."
Pujara says he has worked on expanding his repertoire of strokes over the past few years to include some of the more high-risk shots required in limited-overs cricket. In his previous Ranji match against Madhya Pradesh, he zipped from 150 to 200 in 17 deliveries and played the reverse-sweep and reverse-paddle. "Actually, I started playing the reverse a couple of years ago when the bowlers started adopting the negative tactic against me," he said. "Left-arm spinner bowling over the stumps and on to my pads and you have more space on the off-side and the chances of getting out are less so I have been working on that shot and I have had some decent success with it. That is the kind of shot you don't like to play often but if the situation demands it then you need to learn it."
Even in the Test format, many felt Pujara's selection was delayed, and the wait for the one-day call-up has been longer. "At times I was unfortunate also, because I had two injuries, I was out of the game for more than a year. When you are performing well and you get an injury, you have to start from the scratch, I believe that your concentration, your technique goes down a bit. That way I had to work a little extra to get into the team. Now I am happy because I am fit and doing well in Tests and now have got a call in the ODI format as well. Things are on track."
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo