Rajkot-born Pujara proved to be Australia’s nemesis yet again in the recent four-match series Down Under, scoring three half-centuries but more importantly consuming over 900 balls.
Root described him as a “fantastic” player.
“I think, he (Pujara) is a fantastic player. I had (the) pleasure of playing alongside him only a couple of games at Yorkshire and you know to learn from him, speak to about batting and his love of the game, it is really interesting,” Root said at the virtual press conference on the eve of the first Test beginning here on Friday.
Root said Pujara’s wicket would be huge for his team.
“So, having played against him as well and being at the wrong end of him, making some huge scores and been out there for long periods of time, you know you learn from those kinds of innings.
“And you have seen his importance, the value that he adds to the Indian team, he is going to be a huge wicket for us, no doubt about that.”
The England skipper, in fact, went ahead and said that at times, England players will have to bat long and see whether they are as mentally strong as Pujara.
“At times, it might be we have to try our patience and play a long game and see if we can be as mentally strong as he is at the crease, when we are out there in the field.
“We know he is a fantastic player and he has got a fantastic record in particular, so it is going to be a great challenge to come up against him,” said Root.
Pujara, recently completed his 6000 Test runs and has 6111 runs from 81 Tests, with unbeaten 206 as his highest score.
His slight frame in the formative cricketing years forced Root to hone his skills in playing the sweep shot against spinners, something that he might employ during the “mini-battle” with Ravichandran Ashwin.
After former England skipper Graham Gooch, who was one of the finest exponents of sweep shot against Asian spinners, current skipper Root — with scores of 228 and 186 in Sri Lanka — has shown his mastery on low and slow tracks.
On the eve of the opening Test against India, Root told the story of how he developed the difficult shot that his contemporaries like Virat Kohli or Steve Smith hardly play.
“For me as a young lad, I was always very small. So it took a long time for me to grow and develop physically. I had to find a way to get the ball off the square against any spinners in particular as there was no pace to work with,” Root answered to a query.
“And sweep was one shot where I could generate the maximum power.
“So learning to play that well was pretty much a scoring option for the large proportion of my junior career. Since then I have tried to develop my game a bit more broadly and worked with some brilliant players and brilliant coaches,” added the England captain, who has scored more than 8000 Test runs.
Root said that in the recent tour of Sri Lanka, sweep was the low risk option taking the pitch into account while combating what their spinners had to offer.
So how will he deal with Ashwin?
“I won’t look to dominate or defend but just try and play the ball that is delivered. If I stay around for a period of time, I will score some big runs. He has got a great record in India and is probably full of confidence for that series.
“…you know, I have played against him before and scored some runs and he has got the better of me a couple of times and it will be a little battle between the Test match. The contest that you want to get the better off,” he said.
Root explained that risk assessment is key to playing the sweep shot.
“For me, it’s about understanding playing on line or on length and understanding the surface, whether bounce is going to be an issue or the lateral movement or turn, and trying to factor all those in and calculate the risks to play in a shot.”
As a teenager making his mark in club cricket, being pitted on a turner against a Test level spinner like former Pakistan slow left-arm bowler Nadeem Khan (elder brother of Moeen Khan) was one of the biggest gains for him.
“Actually (the track at) my club ground (in Yorkshire) for an English ground, it spun quite a lot, and we had a great overseas pro who played Test cricket for Pakistan, Nadeem Khan.
“I got to practice against him from the time I was 12-13 years old. It was a good education on how to develop that side of the game and that side of the batting,” he said.
There was an obvious question on Big Four and Root, a self-confessed cricket fan said that he keeps a track of what Kohli, Smith and Williamson are doing in order to learn and improve.
“Obviously they are three leading players in the world and I try and learn from them. It is silly not to learn how they go about their innings, control passages of play, manage their own game and keep evolving all the time.”
It is their distinct styles that make them different from each other.
“There’s no one right way of batting or bowling. Everyone can figure it out themselves. Individual battles is not something that I would look at. What I would look at is always trying to win this series,” said the skipper.