Cheteshwar Pujara has been in sensational form of late. Three centuries in his last three first-class matches has ensured that Pujara travels to South Africa with confidence to improve on a staggering record in Test cricket. Two of these centuries, including a double-century vs Tamil Nadu, have come for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy, while another ton came against West Indies in Sachin Tendulkar's 200th and final match in Mumbai.
Ahead of any away tour, every batsmen in world cricket needs runs under his belt, particularly if it's against the world's best Test side. Pujara couldn't agree more. "These back-to-back hundreds have given me a lot of confidence. Now, it will be a matter of adapting to the conditions in South Africa," he said in an interview to the Indian Express.
In 15 Test matches, Pujara has played just two abroad, his 2nd and 3rd in international cricket - incidentally against the South Africans in 2010-11. Facing Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel proved a challenge even for a talented player like Pujara. He recorded scores of 19, 10 and 2 in the three innings he played. Against Tsotobe and Morkel, he failed against the short-delivery, something Pujara admits he has to work on even today, three years after the previous tour. (Related: Dhoni practices with red Kookaburra balls)
Pitches with speed and bounce are found in both Australia and South Africa, but lateral movement is unique to surfaces in the Rainbow Nation. Pujara acknowledges that his biggest worry is the dual movement on offer for opposition pacers. "Patience is the key to success. From whatever past experience and information I have got, even driving or flicking won't be easy," he adds. (Read: Full interview in Indian Express)
In home Test series' against England and Australia, Pujara's eagerness to play the hook shot was capitalized upon. Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke would place fielders at long-leg and fine-leg and Pujara would take the bait. It was Pujara's father, a former Ranji player for Saurasthra, who warned him against playing the hook shot. "I tell Cheteshwar to avoid playing the hook shot. He tells me that it's a scoring shot but I believe it's a risky one," said Arvind Pujara.
Pujara seems to have taken his father's advice and says that he will not take unnecessary risks in South Africa. "Unless I am sure, I won't play shots."
In 15 Test matches, Pujara has scored 1310 runs at an average of 65.5. He has five centuries -- including two double hundreds - as compared to three half-centuries, which speaks volumes of his conversion rate and a penchant for long innings. However, the upcoming series will be a true test of the 25-year-old's abilities and his standing as the next Rahul Dravid. Yet, before making this comparison it should be noted that Dravid had a poor record in South Africa himself. In 11 Tests Dravid managed just 624 runs -- one hundred and two fifties - at a lowly average of 29.71. (Blog: Pujara's biggest test awaits him)
"I'm aware of the expectations and I will have to find answers for tough situations," added Pujara. He has the skills to succeed abroad but it is his mental fortitude that will be tested. With Sachin retired, India are embarking upon a new era. They will need their Mr. Dependable - Cheteshwar Pujara - to find his feet sooner rather than later.