Pujara: I've missed IPL and I'm confident I'll do well, says batsman ready to scratch seven-year itch

Hendo

Che Pujara in the IPL for the first time in 7 years

Cheteshwar Pujara has spoken for the first time about being pigeon-holed as a Test specialist and how much he has missed being part of the IPL as he prepares for his first appearances in the T20 tournament for seven years.

0The top-order batsman, who was picked up by Chennai Super Kings after last playing for King's XI in 2014, also said that his international commitments had prevented him from getting more experience in the shorter formats and that county cricket in England helped him still believe he could perform in them.

"To make a comeback to the IPL means a lot to me," he said in an exclusive interview with Cricbuzz. "It is the best league in the world and I have missed out on being part of it for a quite some time.

"There has been a perception that those who play more of Test cricket are usually ignored in the shorter format. So even if you want to prove your abilities as a T20 or a white-ball player, you get very limited opportunities.

"When a white-ball tournament is happening in the domestic circuit, I would be busy playing for the Indian team. But when I had a chance to play white-ball games in county cricket, I actually performed well."

That was in 2018, prior to the Indian tour of England later that summer, when he played eight matches in the 50-over Royal London One-Day Cup for Yorkshire, making 370 runs with one hundred and three fifties and a scoring rate of 90.02.

The last time he played T20 cricket was in the domestic Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in March 2019, when his average of 86.66 from six matches was second only to Gurvinder Singh, while his scoring rate of 131.11 was only 20 below IPL regulars Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan. Some of the T20 greats such as Virat Kohli, Brendan McCullum and Faf du Plessis score at a similar rate in the IPL.

Curiously, though, it is his Test performances that have won Pujara the recall to the T20 arena when often it works the other way. His efforts in Australia, where he helped an India team heavily afflicted by injuries and absences to a remarkable 2-1 win, aroused a rare moment of sentimentality at the IPL auction, where Chennai owner N Srinivasan, the former president of the BCCI, refused to allow him to go unsold.

That gesture provoked an outpouring of applause when the franchise snapped him up and Pujara sounds like he will be forever grateful.

"I feel privileged to be part of such a franchise which respects the performance of the players for the national team," he said. "I am lucky that I will be playing under MS Dhoni, who was my captain when I made my international debut. And when Mr Srinivasan, who has been associated with cricket for a long time, says such things, it feels great. It is an emotional moment for me."

However, once the mawkishness dies down, is Pujara likely to see any significant action in this IPL?

A look at his raw stats would suggest not. In 22 matches he averages just 20.53 with a scoring rate of a little over 99 and only one fifty. That came in a match during his one season at RCB in 2013, when he shared an opening partnership of 102 with Chris Gayle against King's XI, to whom he would return the following year before dropping out of the tournament.

But he is ever hopeful. Although he wouldn't be drawn on specific preparations he was making, he did reveal that he is looking to improve his six-hitting – he has hit only four previously.

"I don't overrate myself as a T20 player [but] having played a lot of cricket at the international level, I am very confident I will do well in the shorter format too," he said. "I feel I am part of the right setup in the IPL.

"The franchise, its captain and support staff... there are many people who can guide me to do well. I also understand the game well now and I also know what to do in the IPL. I don't want to miss out on any format. I am glad that I am part of the IPL now and it can only help me grow as a cricketer."