New Delhi - Of all the things that went right in the Test
series opener against New Zealand, Cheteshwar Pujara's transformation from an
obdurate accumulator of runs to a free-scoring batsman when needed must be the
most pleasing for India captain Virat Kohli.
In a team teeming with flamboyant strokemakers, Pujara's
batting, built on a watertight defence and an unflappable temperament, is
almost an anachronism.
India's test number three feels he has no obligation to
quench the boundary-thirst of the home fans, shuns the aerial route like a man
inflicted with the fear of flying and believes defence is the best offence.
Rather unsurprisingly, the 29-year-old went unsold in the
players' auction for the Indian Premier League (IPL), and his strike rate,
currently under 49 in tests, led to his exclusion from the third Test against
West Indies last month.
First in the domestic Duleep Trophy and now in the first Test against New Zealand, Pujara's batting has been something of a revelation.
"Obviously he's someone who absorbs pressure really
well," Kohli said of Pujara whose scores of 62 and 78 came with 50-plus
strike rates in both innings. "After a certain stage in the innings, there
comes a time when the team needs a few runs.
"That's where we felt he has enough ability to
capitalise. It was just about conveying to him."
Kohli confirmed the team management had a chat with Pujara
to fine tune his game.
"We did not want him to go into a shell," Kohli
said. "We want Pujara to bat to his potential. Once he starts scoring runs
along with the composure he already has, it becomes very difficult for the
opposition to have control on the game.
"That's all we wanted to convey to him."
Batting at what is arguably the most important position in a Test lineup, Pujara's form will be key to India's success in their bumper
13-Test home season and Kohli was glad the right hander took the advice in
"He's someone who really understands what the team
wants and has worked really hard on his game," Kohli said.
"We as a team and I as the captain really appreciate
that he's worked hard and hasn't told us that 'this is my comfort zone, I'm not
going to get out of it'."