Cheteshwar Pujara has been elevated to the position of vice-captain with Ajinkya Rahane taking over the reins of the Indian team for the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur beginning Thursday (November 25). Pujara was one of the lynchpins of India’s success in the Test series in England earlier this year, which Virat Kohli’s side are currently leading 2-1 with the fifth and final Test rescheduled for 2022 due to COVID-19 outbreak in Indian camp.

Pujara notched up 227 runs in the four Tests against England in the summer including 91 in the third Test at Leeds and 61 in the 4th Test at the Oval. “My mindset was a lot more different in the England Test series, I was a lot more fearless. 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,” Pujara said during a virtual media interaction from Kanpur on Tuesday (November 23).

The Indian batter is not concerned about the added responsibility of being vice-captain for the Kanpur Test. Kohli is expected to be back for the second Test in Mumbai.

“Added responsibility can be good and cam sometimes work in your favour. Even as a senior player in the side, I used to share my inputs with the think-tank regularly,” Pujara said.

The Saurashtra batter hasn’t seen much cricket for the last three months since he didn’t play a single IPL 2021 match and wasn’t part of the Indian T20 side 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,” he added.

‘Hoping Rahane will score big runs in this series’

Rahane, who will lead the Indian side, is having a tough time with the bat in Test cricket recently. The Mumbai batter only managed 109 runs in four Tests against England including a top-score of 61 and an average of just 15.57.

“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 said about his skipper Rahane.

‘Dravid’s experience as player and coach will help’

The series will also be a litmus test for new head coach Rahul Dravid against the inaugural World Test Champions New Zealand. “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 a player and coach will help the side,” Pujara said about new coach Dravid.

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