Playing England bowlers gave me confidence - Pujara
When you have scored Test hundreds against the likes of James Anderson and Graeme Swann, domestic first-class cricket becomes a breeze. So feels Cheteshwar Pujara, who displayed a little-seen side of his batting in Rajkot as he went from 150 to 200 in just 17 deliveries against a hapless Madhya Pradesh attack. Pujara said the belief gained from playing Anderson's reverse swing had enabled him to hit this Ranji season's leading wicket-taker Ishwar Pandey for five successive fours during his fifth first-class double hundred.
"When you have faced Anderson, it gives you a lot of confidence," Pujara told ESPNcricinfo. "When you can play his reverse swing, this becomes easy. It is also about the experience of playing against some of the best spinners in the world, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. When I batted in the second Test in Mumbai [he made 135 in the first innings], the wicket was a square turner. If you face those kinds of spinners in those conditions, then this is easier."
Pujara was India's leading run-getter in the four home Tests against England, making 438 at an average of 87.60. He repeatedly used his feet against Swann and Panesar and drew praise for his assured manner of handling quality spin. In Rajkot, he displayed his flexibility on a slow, low and slightly uneven pitch, not committing early against the MP spinners, and playing them late with deft wrists.
"The plan was to play late," Pujara said. "Actually my initial thinking was to play on the front foot because the odd ball was keeping low. But they were bowling a bit short, so I could get singles and also hit the odd boundary in an over. I had a very good partnership with Aarpit Vasavada. We were under a bit of pressure [at 23 for 3]. Once we had the partnership, which was really important, we knew we could get runs.
"The MP spinners were a bit inexperienced on how to go about bowling on this wicket and how to bowl in the right areas. They were allowing me to reach to the ball and I could play my shots. If they had continued bowling on the right length for a longer time, things might have been different."
Pujara said his main aim was to get some quick runs with Saurashtra intending to declare at tea, and that reaching a double was not on his mind. "I knew I had only about a couple of overs to score my runs. I thought of going after the bowling and having some practice for the remainder of the season. And once I had hit two boundaries in an over against their left-arm spinner, I thought if I keep hitting like this I might end up scoring a double hundred. But still, I never believed I could do it. And I got more than 127 runs in a session in the end."
In the 17 deliveries that he took to zoom from 150 to 200, Pujara hit ten fours and a six, including a reverse-sweep and a reverse-paddle off the left-arm spin of Rameez Khan. "They were bowling on the leg stump and the field was set on the leg side. I have practised that shot (the reverse-sweep). Even a couple of years ago, when a left-arm spinner tried bowling from over the wicket outside leg stump, I played that shot.
"That (the reverse-paddle) was surprising. Even I never thought I could play that. I knew there was no slip, and I could at least try that shot. These are the shots you can try after scoring a hundred. You can try new things and even if you end up getting out, there is no trouble for the team."
Such a dazzling display of strokes moved one to ask why he still does not find a place in the India ODI side. Pujara, who averages 56.97 in List A one-dayers, felt it was a just a matter of when, and not if. "That is something that is not in my control. I have always performed in domestic one-dayers. I don't need to worry about it. My time will come. One way or the other I will get my chance to play in the ODI team. I just need to keep performing."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo