Skipper Virat Kohli confirmed that top order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara had indeed been told to improve his strike rate after a slow scoring rate had forced team management to drop him in the third Test match in St. Lucia. Kohli confirmed this in the post-match press conference after former chairman of selectors revealed it on a news channel.
"He is someone who absorbs the pressure really well, but after a certain stage in the innings there comes a time when the team needs runs. That’s where we felt that he has the ability to capitalise. It was just about conveying that to him. He has worked hard on his game. He scored at a good strike rate in the Duleep Trophy. Even on this wicket he was scoring at 65, almost 70 strike rate, which, for me, was a revelation. To see Pujara bat that way, because he used to bat that way initially. Especially at home," said Kohli.
The Saurashtra player scored 62 runs in 146 balls in the 1st innings and 78 runs in 219 balls in the 2nd innings against New Zealand. His strike rate was 56.88 and 51.31 in the first and second innings, respectively. "That’s exactly what we wanted him to do. We didn’t want him to go into a shell. We want Pujara to bat to his potential. Once he starts scoring runs to go with the composure he already has, it becomes very difficult for the opposition to have control of the game. That’s all we wanted to convey to him. He’s someone who understands what the team wants. He has come back and he is playing more positively. Which we appreciate as a team and I personally as a captain.”
Pujara was asked to play in Duleep Trophy on his return from the Caribbean, where he scored a double hundred and a 150 plus score.
Kohli reiterated the importance of starting a series on a winning note and the win against New Zealand has given him immense satisfaction. Praising off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who picked up a 10 wicket haul in the Kanpur Test—his fifth one in Test cricket, Kohli described him as priceless impact player. "He's been outstanding for the Indian team. If you see all the impact players in the world, he ranks in the top three or four easily. There are quite a few players making big impact for their respective sides, especially bowlers. Bowlers are the one that win you Test matches and Ashwin is one of them. The rankings suggest that Ashwin is the best at the moment. There's no doubt that he's been bowling wonderfully well for the last couple of years. He works really hard. He's a very keen thinker of the game. He likes to talk cricket and understands the game very well. He is a smart and intelligent cricketer. That shows in his batting as well. He understands the situation and plays accordingly. He knows when to get runs and when to play the situation. So it's priceless to have a cricketer like Ashwin in the Test team.”
The Indian skipper is not taking anything for granted against the visiting Kiwis, who he rates as a very high quality side. With Kolkata, the venue of the second Test, expected to suit batsmen more than Kanpur, starting on a winning note was crucial for Team India. "The first game of the series is very important in any series that you play—whether at home or away. The team which has the first advantage will go into the second Test feeling more confident. But it doesn’t mean that you can take things for granted, because we know that we’re playing a quality side. For them, to show the resilience and the character that they did over the five days of this game, we know that we cannot afford to be relaxed at any stage. Which we took as a lesson, we were relaxed in phases in this game and they capitalised on it. They were on the mark throughout the game. And credit goes to them. They are a team that works really hard, I know that for a fact.”
The second Test match between India and New Zealand is scheduled to start on September 30 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.