‘Pujara is priceless for the team’ – Kohli

20 Mar

Play 03:16

Kohli sings Pujara’s praises

Following the drawn Test in Ranchi, Virat Kohli has hailed Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha for overcoming a difficult situation and taking India to a position from where they could have won the match. When Saha joined Pujara in the post-tea session on day three, India were 328 for 6 in reply to Australia’s 451. They went on to add 199, and India eventually declared with a 152-run first-innings lead.

Australia were four down and still trailing by 89 runs at one stage on the fifth day, with more than two sessions of play still left, but India couldn’t quite push on and win, with Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh batting out 62 overs while adding 124 for the fifth wicket. Kohli said he wasn’t surprised Australia, the world’s second-ranked Test side, fought the way they did.

“Everyone has to take responsibility equally on the field and our players want to do that,” Kohli said in his post-match press conference. “Conditions were such in the first innings that it wasn’t easy for the bowlers, the pitch was very good. It played very well in the first two innings. In the second innings, [Australia] batted well so it ended in a draw.

“But where we were in the first innings, 450 [451] was the [Australian] score and we were 320-odd for 6. From there to make 600 was a very difficult task. We put ourselves in a position to win, so we feel it was a very good effort from us to get into a winning situation.

“But then again, if you are playing against the No. 2 side, you will expect that they will come out and fight, not just roll over. Everyone has his point of view. We will look at our positives and we are happy with where we brought the game to after just one innings. We didn’t need to bat in the second innings. But they had to play for a draw. Like I said, they will look at their positives, we will look at our positives and move forward. There is still one match to go, both [teams] will give it their best.”

Kohli said the bowlers had struggled to extract help from the pitch when the ball grew older and softer, but did not want to stress the point and take credit away from Handscomb and Marsh.

“They batted very well,” Kohli said. “Four down by lunch, and after that they didn’t lose a wicket in the entire session. So credit to them, when someone plays well, you have to give them credit, we understand that.

“But we are also very happy with our efforts. [Ravindra] Jadeja’s bowling was outstanding in this match. All the bowlers bowled very well but Jadeja in my opinion was standout. If you look at his economy, on this pitch it was high-class bowling and showed why he is the joint No. 1 bowler [in the ICC rankings for Test bowlers] alongside Ashwin.”

Kohli: ‘Saha is one guy who is always willing to do anything for the team’ © Associated Press

Pujara won the Player-of-the-Match award for his innings of 202 off 525 balls, which was the longest ever by an Indian batsman (in Tests with ball data available). That knock took Pujara’s tally for 2016-17 to 1259 runs at an average of 66.26.

“You know, sometimes I really feel bad for him,” Kohli said, when asked about Pujara’s contributions through the season. “People don’t understand his importance so much in this team and what a valuable player he is for us. He is the most composed player we have in the team, he is willing to grind for his runs, he doesn’t mind batting under pressure, he likes to take a challenge of batting.

“So someone like that is priceless to have in the team. When the pressure situation comes up, he is someone who will put his hand up and play long for the team and hold up one end, which I think is a great quality in him. This season he has been outstanding. I don’t know the number of runs he has scored but he has contributed throughout. He has not been spoken about much or has been in the focus too much but he deserves much more than that. People need to stand up and take notice of what he has done this season, he has been outstanding with the bat and hopefully he will continue that in the last Test.”

Saha, Kohli said, was similarly underappreciated. “See, Saha’s knock again was brilliant for us. He’s always stood up when the team needs him and this game was no different. His partnership with Pujara was the reason we had a go at winning this Test. A lot of credit goes to him also.

“Again, [he has] not been mentioned too much but he deserves a lot of credit. He’s one guy who is always willing to do anything for the team. Wherever we ask him to bat, he bats. He has no problems in batting after [R] Ashwin, before Ashwin, whenever we want him to do it. He plays any kind of role – positive, defensive, you know, whatever we ask him to do, he never says no.

“So you really really feel glad for a guy like that. He’s willing to do anything for the team and put his best foot forward. As I said, I’m really happy he performed in a big pressure match, in a difficult situation and put us in a position to have a shot at winning the game.”

Mohammed Shami, who has not played for India since suffering a leg injury during the Test series against England, is making a phased return to action. He bowled in the nets in the lead-up to both the Bengaluru and Ranchi Tests, but has not been named in India’s Test squad yet. He has also played 50-over games for Bengal in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and on Monday took four wickets in the tournament final against Tamil Nadu. Kohli said he hadn’t spoken to the selectors yet about Shami’s availability for the fourth Test in Dharamsala, but hinted that it could happen.

“Yeah, Shami also we sent him to play [the Vijay Hazare Trophy] because we saw him bowling 10-12 overs in a go, and we wanted to give him some match practice.” Kohli said. “I don’t know [about his selection], I haven’t spoken to the selectors still. All kinds of possibilities approaching the next Test.”

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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