Pujara keen to 'carry confidence' from Ranji to South Africa
Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored a classy, unbeaten 152 for Saurashtra on the third day of the Ranji Trophy match against Tamil Nadu, said his intention was to make maximum use of his last competitive game before the upcoming tour of South Africa.
Pujara is only expected to join the India squad before the Tests, in time for the two-day tour game in Benoni which starts on December 14, but Saurashtra do no feature in the next round of Ranji matches. In Chennai, he batted through the third day as Saurashtra pursued Tamil Nadu's 565 for 8. It was his third consecutive first-class century, following his 113 in the Mumbai Test against West Indies and 102 for Saurashtra against Bengal before this game. In October, he had scored a triple-hundred against West Indies A.
"In this particular innings, I wanted to be more focused, as it was the last practice match for me before going to South Africa," Pujara said. "Saurashtra are not playing any more matches before my departure. I just wanted to make sure that I play a big knock and carry the confidence to South Africa."
Pujara, who has a reputation for occupying the crease and compiling big scores, saw off a tricky period under overcast conditions in the morning, when the seamers held some sway. He said it was difficult to get on top of the bowlers early on but was later rewarded for his patience once the conditions eased out. His knock included 21 fours, several of which were due to his wristwork.
Pujara, admitting that it would be difficult to simulate South African conditions in India, said that dealing with short-pitched deliveries will be key to enjoying success there. "Whatever practice I do before the tour will be about getting used to the bounce," he said. "You can't compare this with what you will get in South Africa. But there was some bounce on this wicket, if you compare it with other pitches in India.
"What I have been working on is to avoid the hook shot and pull. Maybe I can play it when the wicket is slow. But when I am getting enough runs, I don't have a reason to play them."
He said the Indian batsmen had improved over time against the short ball. "I don't think we are struggling against the short ball anymore," he said. We have been working on it. Our team is doing well in ODIs in overseas conditions. It's just about getting used to it in Tests."
India's previous visit to South Africa, in 2010-11, was Pujara's first tour with the national side and he struggled, scoring only 31 runs in three innings. Pujara batted at No. 6 on that tour, but has now made the No. 3 position his own following Rahul Dravid's retirement.
"I like to take responsibility. Since my Under-14 days I have been playing in the top order. You have to understand the situation and play. I feel that the way I have been performing in the last one and a half years has been incredible."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo