On his third trip to South Africa, Indian middle order mainstay Cheteshwar Pujara on Tuesday advised his team’s batsmen to “leave the ball well” when the Virat Kohli-led side takes the field in the first Test against South Africa here from Friday. “It is always important to leave the ball well, especially overseas. Once we move out of India, there is enough bounce on the pitch and that’s the reason why one should be able to leave the ball,” Pujara said after the team’s practice session here.
Pujara will be taking the role of being one of the strongest pillars of the Indian top order against the likes of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, and Morne Morkel. It’s no secret that the South African bowling attack is one of the best and the home turf gives them a significant edge of the visitors. However, Pujara believes that a number of Indian batsmen have been to the country before and are familiar with the conditions there. “Most of our players have been here before. I have been here in 2010/11 and 2013/14. It is about knowing your game and knowing the conditions. When you have played on such pitches, you know what you want to do as a batsman and as a team,” Pujara highlighted his experience from last tours.
The Saurashtra batsman also felt that the Indian pace attack is better this time. He heaped praises on the Indian pace attack which is likely to be led by Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The Indian bowlers had a fine outing against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded home series which saw India dominate Sri Lanka on every front. Rohit Sharma in the absence of Captain Virat Kohli led the team phenomenally while bagging his first ODI and T20 series as Indian captain. He was largely supported by the Indian bowling pack that will have a more challenging opposition to contain in South Africa. Pujara believes the good run will help the Indian bowlers in the foreign conditions to and he is expecting them to fire.
“They are all quick, so we have that advantage this time. Our fast bowlers have bowled well even in Indian conditions when there was not much assistance from the wicket. They picked up wickets on flat tracks, against Australia,” he said. However, he also stressed how the team never chased records. “When you start winning, records come automatically. We have never spoken about records. We have that opportunity to be a great side, if we do well here, in England, and Australia. We have that experience and a team which can dominate overseas. If we do that, this will be one of the best Indian teams,” he said.
Pujara believes that the current team carries the weight and experience to rule the roost in the upcoming three-match Test series. “When we were playing Sri Lanka, we had already started talking about the South Africa tour. The plans are in place. I don’t think there was a rush, we had plenty of time to prepare. We are confident after the net sessions that we have had here so far. The team also had two net sessions a day a couple of times,” he said.
Keeping the South African conditions in mind, the Indian team had a pace-friendly strip in the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in November. “There was some movement and bounce in Kolkata. It was still different from what we may get here, but we tried to replicate what we could. Even in other matches, and whenever we hit the nets, South Africa tour was on our mind,” he said. India will begin the New Year playing the three-match Test rubber against the Proteas. While the first match will be played here at Newlands, the second and third matches will be played in Centurion (January 13-17) and Durban (January 24-28), respectively.
(With agency inputs)