Ajinkya Rahane is a great player; only one knock away from getting his rhythm back: Cheteshwar Pujara

Ajinkya Rahane is a great player; only one knock away from getting his rhythm back: Cheteshwar Pujara

Dravid coming as coach is a help to both youngsters and senior players, Pujara also said.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Ajinkya Rahane might not have had the best of forms in Test cricket of late, but all he needs to get going, as is the case with any “great player”, is one big innings. This is the view of Cheteshwar Pujara, who is set to be Rahane’s deputy against New Zealand in the Kanpur Test in the absence of Virat Kohli, who has been rested for the Test series opener.

Last Rahane led India in the longest format was when Kohli flew to India to cater his paternal duties in the middle of the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which India won 2-1 eventually after the 36 all-out Adelaide debacle.

In the immediately following encounter at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, stand-in captain Rahane stood out with a gritty century that helped India level the series, before the Sydney draw and a fortress-breaching Brisbane heist to cap off a historic triumph and successive series victories in Australia’s den, having won the 2018-19 series earlier.

Ever since, however, Rahane has endured a dismal run in Tests: he averaged 18.67 in six innings against England in the subsequent home series in February-March, while 15.57 in seven innings against the same opposition in the Pataudi Trophy in August-September.

“Rahane is a great player. There will be ups and downs in any players’ career. He has been working hard in the nets and we are hoping he’ll score big runs in this series,” Pujara told reporters in a virtual press meet ahead of the Test series opener against New Zealand.

‘Added responsibility can be good’ – Cheteshwar Pujara on vice-captaincy

Pujara, the cornerstone of the team’s success in both conquests Down Under, was in fine touch in the away England series, tallying 227 at 32.43, including crucial half-century at Headingley and the Oval, but has not been active ever since with India being on a heavy T20 diet. Although, Pujara is confident to carry forward his “fearless” approach adopted during England series against New Zealand too.

“My mindset was a lot more different in the England Test series, I was a lot more fearless,” Pujara said. “There was not much change in technique. So far preparations for the New Zealand series has been good and I’ll look to carry that same fearless mindset against the Kiwis as well.”

“Although I didn’t play any match, I was part of an IPL team (Chennai Super Kings). I went to practice with CSK and trained with them regularly. We also had a five-day camp in Mumbai to prepare for the NZ series which has been really good,”

As for the added onus of vice-captaincy, he said: “Added responsibility can be good and can sometimes work in your favour. Even as a senior player in the side, I used to share my inputs with the think-tank regularly.”

This, meanwhile, will also be the first Test assignment for the team under Rahul Dravid, India’s newly-appointed head coach after Ravi Shastri’s exit. “It is a help to most of the young players as well as seniors like me that Dravid is coming in as coach. I have played alongside Rahul Dravid as a player and played under him in the ‘A’ series as well. The amount of experience he has as a player and coach will help the side.”