Want to score runs overseas: Pujara
In this age where swagger and showmanship rule the roost, Cheteshwar Pujara is a throwback to the good old days of modesty and workmanship. With his solid ‘Test’ technique, penchant and patience of spending long hours at the crease and an ever-so-pleasing smile to celebrate a landmark, Pujara is almost a misfit among his fellow 25-year-olds.
Sample this – Immediately after scoring an unbeaten 162 on the second day of the Hyderabad Test against Australia, Pujara didn’t jump with joy, like most youngsters his age would. Instead, he spoke about how his true worth as a Test batsman will be determined when he scores runs overseas. For the record, in his last 10 Tests, he has already scored two centuries and one double-hundred and is eyeing a second double, in his 11th Test.
Coming in to bat at No.3 – a position he took over from India’s most solid batsman for 16 years – Pujara has often had to come out early, owing to the Indian openers’ patchy form. And in only the third series post Rahul Dravid, he has started to bring in a calming effect with him in the middle.
But while the connoisseurs of Indian cricket are all excited about this young man who has the potential to serve India for a long time, Pujara doesn’t know what all the fuss is all about. Or, at least, he doesn’t care. All he wants is to keep batting for hours, even if he has to fight his own body, like he did in Hyderabad.
Since you made your first-class debut, you’ve been referred to as Saurashtra’s run machine. Should we now officially change it to India’s run machine?
It’s too early to say that. I’m batting well and scoring runs in Indian conditions. What I want to prove is that I can score Test runs overseas as well. I will judge myself on the basis of how I perform in the tough foreign conditions. But yes, whenever I score runs for India, I feel proud about it. Scoring a hundred is a different feeling as a batsman at whatever level you play.
You seem to be developing a love affair with Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, aren’t you?
Yes, kind of. When I played my first Test here, against New Zealand, I scored a century. However, then I got out after scoring 159. I have to make sure I don’t do that this time and grab the chance to score a double-hundred.
How tough was the first hour of the day batting-wise?
It was tricky and we were aware about it because when we bowled, there was a bit of help for the fast bowlers. When the ball was new, the plan was to see through the first session. It was difficult for us as a batting unit and we just wanted to make sure we didn’t lose too many wickets.
You seemed to be struggling with your leg for most part of the innings. Was it your knee that was troubling you again?
I actually pulled my hamstring; the knee is okay. Early in my innings when I dived to avoid getting run-out, that’s when the muscle sprained. I was really struggling until the lunch break and I thought I might have to go back to the pavilion. But as I kept on fighting it, it eased out a bit.
After facing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in your last Test series, were the Aussie spinners a bit easier to deal with?
Yes, I was getting loose balls easily. Once you have faced bowlers like Swann and Panesar, who are among the best in the world, it becomes a bit easier to face these spinners. But it’s a game of cricket and if you’re not focused, you can get out any time. In the last session, I edged one ball [off Xavier Doherty] and it went for a four past the wicketkeeper. So you have to be on your toes against all the bowlers.
Murali Vijay played the sweep shot a few times. Doherty bowled a lot of leg-side balls to you, but you hardly attempted that shot. You don’t fancy the sweep?
The sweep shot is not my strength. I like to play the spinners straight down the ground. I was getting runs by playing the shots which I am good at and so there wasn’t any need to try out the sweep. I did try to play it a couple of times when the ball was pitched outside the leg, but I realised I’m not very good at it.
You’ve always had the knack of scoring big hundreds. Do you start from scratch after reaching the 100-run mark or just go with the flow?
I just go with the flow. The thing is that I don’t like to get out. As a batsman I like to put a high price on my wicket and hate losing it even after scoring a century. Once I have scored 100 runs, I can see the ball well, I am more aware about the conditions and the bowling. The bowlers are tired and so you get loose balls easily. It becomes easier to score more runs after hundred.