Pujara confident of short-form success
Cheteshwar Pujara says finishing in the top two at the end of the league phase is Kings XI Punjab's "main focus" at the moment. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo ahead of Monday's clash against bottom placed Delhi Daredevils, Pujara said, "We are very hopeful we'll be able to win the title. At the moment, the focus is on playing the next few games and being in the top two so that we have an opportunity of making it into the final even if we lose the first qualifier."
Having won eight of their ten games this season, Kings XI can confirm a spot in the knockouts with a win at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Pujara attributes the team's success this season to the team "playing to its potential" after a well thought-out auction strategy. "It was important to get the momentum and start winning from the first game onwards. The win against Chennai was the most memorable one, where we chased over 200," he said. "That was a great beginning and then everything went on our side."
Pujara, who began the season as Virender Sehwag's opening partner, was left out after the first six matches, in which he made 125 runs at an average of just 25 at a strike rate of 100.80. He defended those numbers saying he had a "role to play" according to the situation. "I just had to make sure that I stayed around and tried to rotate the strike," he said. "Overall I am happy with the way things have gone. I am also working on a few things that will allow me to more successful in this format, hopefully with time and experience it will come off."
Those numbers, though, have given voice to critics who believe Pujara is unsuited to limited-overs cricket. Pujara admits that "perception" exists but says, having played bowlers such as Steyn and Morkel "successfully at Test level in overseas conditions" and having a "decent average and strike rate" (3082 runs @ 55.03 with nine hundreds in 70 games) in one-day cricket at domestic level, it is "a matter of time" before he succeeds.
Despite having played only two one-day internationals, Pujara is confident of making the India squad for the World Cup less than a year from now. "I am focusing on improving my cricket. First thing that is coming up is the England series and let's see how it goes," he said. "Maybe even the Bangladesh series is there, so I am very hopeful I will be part of the ODI side."
One of the key factors in Kings XI's run this season has been Glenn Maxwell's consistently astonishing assaults. Pujara reveals he finds it much more "fun to be at the crease and watch him play rather than watch from the dressing room".
"The good thing about him is that between overs he always interacts about how the bowler is bowling or what are the things that he is planning for the next over," Pujara said. "He targets a few areas where he wants to hit."
While the IPL is the focus right now, the 26-year-old is already thinking ahead to the tour of England that starts in late June. "All the youngsters who were part of the South African and New Zealand series are more confident going into this series," he said. "It will be a different unit for sure. I have toured there with the India A team, and wickets and conditions are obviously challenging but somehow I love playing in those conditions. I am hopeful we will be able to put up a good show in the series."
Having had a successful series in South Africa recently where he made 280 runs at an average of 70.00, including a hundred in the first Test at Johannesburg, Pujara is confident he can now get runs consistently in overseas conditions. "I have a reasonable record playing in South Africa and New Zealand," he said. "Obviously, I didn't get as many runs in New Zealand but overall I think I played reasonably well."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo