Kolkata: The signficance of a World Test Championship final is manifold for a player like Cheteshwar Pujara - the rock of Indian batting who is a Test specialist. Now 33 and one of the senior members of the squad, India’s ‘Mr Dependable’ is looking forward to the marquee contest between India and New Zealand almost like a lifetime opportunity.
Right from the early days of his career, Pujara has had the unenviable responsibility of playing the successor to the legendary Rahul Dravid and played the role of No.3 to the best of his ability - against all odds. His strike-rate was often panned as slow (though it’s a shade superior to his idol as of now) but that didn’t stop the intense character from earning kudos of a fearsome rival like Australia’s Pat Cummins after the last tour Down Under.
‘‘Once we knew Virat [Kohli] was going to miss the last three Tests, [Pujara] was the big wicket for me. He was the deciding factor in the series a couple of years earlier - he was their rock in the middle order - and I felt a big part of the series battle would be played out against him,’’ Cummins said in an interview after India scripted a fairytale 2-1 series win.
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The setting at Ageas Bowl will be once again tailormade for Pujara - as he will be up against a high quality swing bowling unit led by Trent Boult, English conditions and the reputation of Duke balls doing an extra bit.
“Personally, it (WTC final) means a lot to me. Playing one format, the Test format, this is the first time we are playing the World Test Championship Finals. As a team we have worked over a period of time, you play so many series at home and away from home. To be at the top requires a lot of hard work.
“It’s like playing a World Cup final in any format. This is the first time in the Test format but playing an ODI World Cup final or even a T20 World Cup final, it’s very similar to that. Personally, I’m looking forward to it, and as a team we are looking forward to it,’’ Pujara told the ICC website after India’s four-day warm-up game.
There have been concern in some quarters if the Indian squad has been left little short of match practice vis-a-vis New Zealand, who earned a creditable series win against England to claw up to the top of ICC Test rankings.
A candid Pujara admitted: “It will be challenging but we have been through a lot of preparation recently. The time we have had here, in the last nine or 10 days, we have tried to use it to the fullest. As a team, we are very well-prepared. We have the experience, most of the guys have played in England in the past, so I think we are up for the challenge, so we are very confident.”
There is often a question mark if Pujara needs to up the ante from time to time - and play more shots. WV Raman, the former Indian opener, made a valid point in a chat with Gulf News recently: ‘‘In England, the weather changes every now and then and batting becomes difficult. My two bit is that if he takes a little more initiative and gets 35-40 quicker runs in a session, it can set the rivals thinking.’’
The Wall vs Pujara
Matches Runs Avg SR 100s 50s
Dravid 164 13288 52.31 42.51 36 63
Pujara 80 5953 47.62 45.57 18 26