Cheteshwar Pujara ready to dig in for Yorkshire cause

Back with Yorkshire: Cheteshwar Pujara unveils his shirt number at Headingley. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix
Back with Yorkshire: Cheteshwar Pujara unveils his shirt number at Headingley. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix
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CHETESHWAR PUJARA is ready to play the patience game to help bring silverware back to a Yorkshire club restless for success.

The India batsman is renowned for his ability to bat for long periods, something that Yorkshire have been lacking in County Championship cricket.

The club are desperate to return to winning ways after only just avoiding relegation last year, and overseas signing Pujara is adamant he can aid their quest for a third title in five years.

“Patience is the key,” said Pujara, who is something of a throwback in terms of his composed batting style.

“In England, the wickets are challenging, and you’re playing on seaming wickets that deviate a lot and there’s always help in the air for the bowlers.

“I would like to spend a lot of time at the crease and score as many runs as possible. It’s always important to start off well as a team, and then you can carry that momentum forward.”

Pujara, who will bat No 3 in the opening game against champions Essex at Emerald Headingley on Friday, and who is with Yorkshire for the next three months and then possibly again at the end of the season, has fabled powers of concentration.

Averaging 50 from 57 Tests, and with 12 scores of more than 200 to his credit in first-class cricket, including three 300s, he said that he realised early on that to hold down a regular place in a studded India side that simply scoring 100s was not enough.

“To get into the Indian team, I had to really work hard because we had so many great players,” said Pujara, who made his Test debut in 2010.

“Gambhir, Sehwag, Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar – all of them were playing at that time, and to get into that team, you had to score many runs.

“When I was scoring hundreds it wasn’t enough, so I started scoring double-hundreds, triple-hundreds. I realised that if I had an opportunity I had to go on.”

That mentality will be music to the ears of Yorkshire, whose batting has not fired collectively since 2014, when they won the first of two back-to-back titles.

The art of batting time, a la great former players such as Geoffrey Boycott, is becoming increasingly rare in a T20 era in which run-scoring is more explosive, albeit often at the expense of permanence at the crease.

“It’s not lost completely (the art of batting time), although I do agree that the shorter format is taking over,” said Pujara, whose calmness off the field reflects his coolness on it.

“The modern era batsmen want to start playing shots from early on, and their strike-rate is changing, but I still feel there is enough room for the guys with the right technique, the right temperament, because when you play in challenging conditions you can’t just keep playing your shots, you need to assess what the pitch is like, what the conditions are like, and so on.”

Pujara’s approach was exemplified by an extraordinary innings he played on his most recent Test appearance, against South Africa at Cape Town in January.

He scored 50 in almost four-and-a-half hours on a treacherous pitch to help India to a 63-run win, taking 54 balls to get off the mark.

“That fifty was more satisfying than scoring a double-hundred against any team,” he said. “I faced a lot of balls and that wicket was one of the toughest wickets I’ve ever played on.

“To play on such pitches is a great experience because you need concentration and must leave the ball well.

“As a batsman, you don’t just want to be playing on flat wickets, you want to be scoring runs on challenging pitches as you become more confident and satisfied.”

This is Pujara’s second spell at Yorkshire, where he played four Championship games in 2015, scoring 264 runs at 52.

He also played three Championship matches for Derbyshire in 2014, scoring 219 runs at 54, but struggled at Notts last summer, making 333 runs in eight games at 27.

“I’m feeling in good form now and had a wonderful time at Yorkshire in 2015,” he said.

“When I knew that Yorkshire were willing to call me back, I was immediately looking forward to it and said ‘yes’.

“The dressing room in 2015 was something that stood out for me, and that is the reason I came back. They’re a great bunch of players and I can’t wait to get going.”

Pujara is popular with a squad who three years ago nicknamed him ‘Steve’.

“It was Jack Brooks who came up with that name,” he said. “The guys are still calling me Steve now, as it’s really difficult for them to pronounce ‘Cheteshwar’.

“Sometimes, when they call me Steve, I’m not sure whether they’re calling me or someone else!”