Indian team is preparing for home series against New Zealand under coach Anil Kumble’s watchful eyes. India’s most successful bowler has backed Cheteshwar Pujara’s presence at number three and attributed exclusion in a final couple of Tests against West Indies to a “horses for courses” approach.

The 45-year-old former Indian spinner said the growing importance of strike rate in modern day Test cricket whilst also throwing his weight behind the Saurashtra batsman’s tenacity.

Kumble said, “With modern cricket, everybody looks at the strike rate rather than what that particular player brings to that table. Pujara is a very important cog in our wheel and when he plays at No. 3, he is a very important player. Yes, there are times when he misses out and Rohit (Sharma) comes in. That’s when we probably feel, we need someone lower down to accelerate. That’s why in one of the Tests in West Indies, he missed out.”

Kumble further said,  “The one good thing about this team is that all 17 who were in the squad were all available to play and all of them show that intent. If they are playing, they are fine. When they are left out, yes, they are disappointed. But at the same time, they contribute in whatever way they can. The sword is always hanging on his (Pujara’s) head which is not good. I certainly believe he is a very important player for us and he will play at No. 3, and for us to be successful, he is important to us in the short term and long term as well.“

Skipper Virat Kohli’s preference for five bowlers in order to get a result in the match, the pressure has been firmly placed on the top order with an extra emphasis on their scoring rate. Despite his solidity, Pujara’s inability to accelerate from the outset meant that Rohit Sharma got the nod ahead of him  for the matches in St Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago on the top order with  an extra emphasis on their scoring rate.

However, Kumble said it is not mandatory to play always with five bowlers.

“It is not mandatory that you look to play five bowlers. It depends on the opposition, the surface and what the team requires. If we believe that four bowlers are enough to pick up 20 wickets and you need that additional batsman in the team, then we are open for that. The approach will certainly be to win every game that you play.”

Meanwhile, talking about to promote all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin  ahead of wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha in the batting order, the former leg-spinner said, “Saha was batting at six and we felt that the pressure that he was getting under which wasn’t ideal for him. Someone like Ashwin can take that pressure off and then Saha can bat freely, and Ashwin has shown what he’s capable of. He’s scored two hundred and made his mark at No. 6 whenever we played five bowlers.”

India kick-starts their 3-Test series against New Zealand on the 22nd at Kanpur and has an opportunity to reclaim the number one ranking from Pakistan.

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