Pujaras strike rate debate thoroughly backed by Kumble

Immediately after the first IPL in 2008, this writer visited Modern School in New Delhi one evening when cricket was on. It was a match among pre-teens, under makeshift floodlights. When each little batsman came back after getting dismissed, the coach asked him how many runs he’d made off how many balls.

The coach approved of batsmen who had scored quickly and clicked his tongue at those who had scored lesser runs than the balls they’d played.

Right now, India’s excellent batting talent Cheteshwar Pujara seems to be going through such a scenario. Last Sunday, former chief selector Sandeep Patil said that coach Anil Kumble and captain Virat Kohli had had a word with Pujara about the rate of his run-scoring during the tour of the West Indies. Pujara had made 16 off 67 balls and 46 off 159 in the first two Tests, before being dropped for the third Test. He was recalled for the fourth Test but didn’t get to bat at all as the match was washed out.

In the first Test at Kanpur, Pujara scored 62 off 109 (scoring rate 56.88) in the first innings and 78 of 152 balls (scoring rate 51.31) in the second. Before Kanpur, he’d made 48.2 runs per 100 balls in Test cricket.

Is it the effect of the “talk” by Kohli and Kumble, and being dropped in the West Indies, that has made Pujara quicker in his subsequent innings? Kohli’s comments after the Kanpur win suggest this.

‘Team needs runs’

“Pujara 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,” Kohli said at Kanpur.

Kohli said that to see Pujara score fast at Kanpur was a “revelation” for him. “If you see his double-hundreds against England and Australia, he will dominate spinners,” said Kohli. “That’s exactly what we wanted him to do. We didn’t want him to go into a shell.”

Support for Pujara

This is Kohli’s honest view, and he’s known for stating his opinions in a forthright manner. But perhaps these comments don’t show Pujara in a good light; they make it appear that he improved his game after being spoken too — and, of course, there’s nothing wrong in a captain or coach counselling a player.

Coach Kumble today gave his complete support to Pujara when asked about strike rates by batsmen in Test cricket. “I’m a bit old-fashioned… I know there is a lot of strike rate in the last eight years after the advent of T20,” he said. “From my point of view, as far as I am concerned, strike rates are relevant only for bowlers in Test matches.”

Kumble said Pujara is extremely relevant for the team, and that he was “disappointed” that this talk of his scoring rate had come up. “I’m really surprised and a bit disappointed that this talk keeps coming up,” he said.

No turner at Eden?

The wicket is greenish as of now, and the occasional rain and humidity have made sure that it won’t be a dusty, dry turner for the second Test. The wicket square has been relaid and no matches have been played here after that, and there’s a possibility of rain over the next few days. So it’s hazardous to predict how the wicket would behave. There’s a possibility of slow, spongy bounce off the wicket — when Virat Kohli practised today, he was bowled at with a rubber ball for some time. That indicates that Kohli thinks the wicket could offer spongy bounce.

Ashwin troubled by a corn

Ravichandran Ashwin picked up 10 wickets in Kanpur, but he’s been troubled by a corn in the middle finger of his right hand. Kumble today said that all players in the squad are available for selection. However, the inclusion of off-spinner Jayant Yadav in place of Ishant Sharma in the squad suggests that there’s a worry over Ashwin, however slight it might be.

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