Bulawayo, Aug. 1 -- Much after the rest of his team-mates had finished their practice session and were gorging on the Gujarati food at the Queens Sports Club, Cheteshwar Pujara was still sweating it out in the field.
With fielding coach Trevor Penny for guidance, Pujara went through his fielding drills, his enthusiasm still intact despite having already batted in two small sessions at the nets.
On Wednesday, as India prepared for the inconsequential fourth ODI against Zimbabwe, Pujara was the first to get padded up. The way the batsman prepared during the training session, it looked almost certain that the 25-year-old will make his One-day debut on Thursday.
It's surprising that a player of Pujara's calibre is yet to play ODIs, despite having made his Test debut close to three years ago. He has made a seamless entry into Test cricket, his impeccable technique complementing his calm temperament in the longer format where he averages an impressive 65.55 in 13 matches.
Still, astonishingly, there is a question mark over his ability to click in the shorter formats, much like the questions Rahul Dravid faced early in his career. This despite Pujara scoring 2,735 runs in 61 List A matches, averaging a solid 56.97. And he has not been slow in Tests too, having displayed the ability to switch gears according to the match situation.
At the Ferozeshah Kotla Test against Australia in March, Pujara anchored a potentially tricky fourth-innings chase, scoring 82 not out off just 92 balls. He hardly appeared to take risks and rarely played a shot in the air on a dusty pitch difficult for stroke-making.
If Pujara does play on Thursday, it is most likely he will open the batting with Shikhar Dhawan or Rohit Sharma. Dhawan chose to bowl to Pujara at the nets, padding up only for a few minutes later, indicating that the in-form Delhi left-hander may sit out.
With ODIs now being played with two new balls, a batsman of Pujara's calibre will add lot of value. The 2015 World Cup will be held in New Zealand and Australia, where negotiating the bounce will be a huge factor and Pujara has got what it takes to succeed in such conditions.
Bulawayo is windy and the pitch having shades of green on the eve of the match will provide a perfect test for Pujara and the rest. Though the Indian team management was tight-lipped about the playing eleven, it is possible that either seamer Mohit Sharma or spinner Parvez Rasool or both could make their India debuts.
Vinay Kumar, the most experienced paceman for India on the tour, did not bowl at the nets due to a hamstring niggle. Chances of him recovering are not bright, in which case Mohit is likely to play in conditions ideally suited for a seamer.
Off-spinner Rasool could get a game if Jadeja is rested. This short tour was meant to test the bench strength. With India having sealed the series comprehensively, the last two matches will be an ideal platform to provide exposure to youngsters.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.