Worcestershire v Yorkshire: Pujara ready to make Yorkshire bow as Champions plan defence

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CHETESHWAR PUJARA is used to pressure.

He bats at No.3 for India, the most demanding and cricket-mad country in the world, and when the news broke back home that he had signed for Yorkshire, he had the media camped outside his house.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club's new signing Cheteshwar Pujara. (TJ100791f Picture: Tony Johnson)

Yorkshire County Cricket Club's new signing Cheteshwar Pujara. (TJ100791f Picture: Tony Johnson)

The prospect of playing in a County Championship game against Worcestershire, therefore, is not one to faze a man who has made light of following in the footsteps of Rahul Dravid.

He is optimistic that he can help Yorkshire get off to a good start in their title defence when he makes his county debut at New Road tomorrow.

“I’m feeling really confident and hope I’ll be able to do well in Sunday’s game,” said Pujara, who was officially unveiled before a somewhat more sedate media presence at Headingley yesterday.

“There is always responsibility on your shoulders as an overseas player, but in the state team I play for, Saurashtra, I’ve always been a player that the team looks up to and I bat No.3 for the India team.

“It’s always a key position, and you have to play with a lot of responsibility.

“I will try and do the same for Yorkshire, and I’ve been practising back home and I feel in good form.”

Pujara, 27, was not part of India’s World Cup side nor snapped up by an Indian Premier League franchise.

He has crafted a reputation as a classical batsman in the purest sense, a player who can bat for long periods but one who is also determined to add to a tally of five one-day internationals, the last of them almost a year ago.

Pujara’s first-class record is exceptional. He averages 57 with a top score of 352, and he should have no trouble adapting to English conditions having also had a spell at Derbyshire last summer.

“I’m a classical kind of player, but I’d like to do well in all formats and play all types of cricket,” he said. “It was disappointing not to play in the IPL, but to have the opportunity to play for Yorkshire is great.

“When I was playing for Derbyshire last season, I saw the kind of cricket that Yorkshire played and the way they won the County Championship.

“I never had a second thought when I had the opportunity to join the club.”

Yorkshire, for their part, had no hesitation in signing Pujara when the Pakistan batsman Younus Khan pulled out of a deal at the 11th hour.

Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire first team coach, admitted that things have probably turned out for the best.

““I think it’s actually worked out perfectly for us having a young player who really wants to prove himself and to improve himself,” said Gillespie. “In the last few years, we’ve been very lucky having hungry overseas players with a point to prove, and Pujara fits that bill perfectly.

“We’re delighted to get him at such short notice, and he’ll be here until Aaron Finch (the club’s main overseas player) arrives after the IPL next month.”

Pujara will bat No.3 at New Road, where his presence will help an inexperienced line-up in which Will Rhodes will open the batting on only his third first-class outing.

Yorkshire have six players away with England and captain Andrew Gale suspended after his spat last summer with Ashwell Prince, which means Rhodes’s fellow opener Alex Lees will again lead the team before Gale returns for the second Championship game at Nottinghamshire a week tomorrow.

It is a challenging start to the season for Yorkshire, who will not have their fringe England players back until the fourth Championship match at home to Hampshire. But Pujara is confident the club can defend their title.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “They should be able to do it. If we start off well and continue playing good cricket, the Championship will come eventually.

“Hopefully, I can play my part and improve my technique as well. The ball does a bit at this time of the year and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Pujara takes pride in the fact he is the third Indian after Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh to represent Yorkshire.

He hopes to catch up with former team-mate Tendulkar soon about his own experiences of playing for the club.

“I’ve not had a chance to speak to Sachin yet, but when I do I’ll have a chat with him about it (Yorkshire),” said Pujara.

“When I heard I’d be the third Indian to play for Yorkshire, it was a great feeling, an honour for me. I’d love to come back (to Yorkshire) in the future depending on the international calendar, and so on. I’ve spoken to many players throughout the world, and they’ve always said good things about county cricket.”

Gillespie believes Yorkshire have a nugget on their hands.

He said: “He scores not only hundreds, but big hundreds. He’s got a good technique that will hold him in good stead early-season, and he’s got the game to adapt to any situation.

“A lot’s been spoken about how we’re missing a number of players at the moment, but we feel we’ve got a quality team and Pujara will add to that.

“We’re ready to go.”