Cheteshwar Pujara led Rest of India to a six-wicket victory against Gujarat in the 2017 edition of the Irani Cup. While the result may not reflect it, the game had swung between the two sides until, the top-order bat along with Wriddhiman Saha (203*) resolutely chased down the 379-run target with a record unbroken 316-run fifth wicket stand in the Cup’s history.
ROI had conceded the first innings lead to the Parthiv Patel-led team as Pujara ran out of partners and was himself the seventh wicket to fall. However, in the second innings the skipper anchored the chase with an unbeaten 116 while the wicketkeeper-batsman counter-attacked to seize the game.
How do you look back on the win given the ups and downs during the match?
All in all it was a very good game of cricket. Gujarat played really well. We were always under pressure starting from the first innings. They got runs on the board, 358 in the first innings (but) probably they were also under pressure when they lost six wickets early. However, Chirag Gandhi batted really well and they came back into the game. We didn’t bat well in the first innings so we were behind them. Credit goes to our bowlers for restricting them to 246 (in the second innings). When we were chasing a total below 400 (379 runs), psychologically we had that advantage. We knew that on this wicket we could chase this total. (Also) in last year’s Irani Cup match Rest of India chased down 480 runs so we were very confident when we went in to bat. We didn’t get off to a good start, but Saha and my partnership (316 runs) was crucial for us to win this game.
You ran out of partners in the first innings so what was your advise to Saha since you both were the last recognised batting pair?
When he came in to bat (at 63/4) he told me that he is going to take on the bowlers; hit the balls which are on the fuller lengths. I told him ‘yes, you probably have to bat that way,’ because we wanted to unsettle the bowlers. And at the other end I was there to see that we didn’t lose any more wickets and hit the loose balls. So he kept on going; he kept on hitting the bowlers and then they didn’t know what to do.
Batsmen have said that your presence at other end inspires confidence to go on. What helps you stay calm?
It is probably the experience from having played a lot of domestic cricket. Now I also have the experience of playing at the international circuit so that does help. I think when you keep playing this format, this game and keep on scoring runs you know what to do when you face (difficult) situations. I try and analyse the situation and keep communicating with my partner.
What is the key to your temperament?
I think the number of runs I have scored in junior cricket and then moving on to first-class cricket (has built it). When I keep scoring big and once I get that temperament, I get that concentration to keep on playing the long innings.
How significant is this innings in context of the forthcoming Test series?
It was very crucial because I wanted some practice before the one-off test match against Bangladesh and the four Test matches against Australia. I wanted to prepare myself and this was the right opportunity playing at first-class level. I have some T20 matches coming up – domestic T20s (Zonal) and then again move on to the Test format.
How much have you enjoyed the captaincy role?
I enjoyed it. We didn’t get off to a good start, but we all got together and decided that this is not the way we want to play our cricket. There is lot of potential in all the players, who have performed well in first-class cricket (and so) they got into the Rest of India team. We had a chat, we discussed that we wanted to put up a better show. Everyone stood up; they took the responsibility, so it was easier for me.
What do you tell youngsters who have played fewer matches? How do you motivate them?
I don’t need to say much. All are mature players, but whenever there is (such) a time, you just need to remind them that this is the platform that all the youngsters are looking forward to and you can showcase your talent. When you have done well in the Ranji Trophy and you are selected for this particular tournament you need (use the opportunity) to show that you deserve to play for the Indian team and if you want to play for the Indian team this is the right platform where you can perform.
How would you sum up the performance of ROI bowlers, especially Siddharth Kaul and Shahbaz Nadeem?
I would say that all the bowlers did really well. Starting from Pankaj Singh, Siddharth (Kaul) and Md Siraj - the three fast bowlers and then Shahbaz Nadeem and Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep didn’t get many wickets but he is very talented and hardworking. I think all the bowlers did well, but yes, I think Kaul and Nadeem bowled well. They got wickets and it was crucial for us to get wickets in the second innings because as we didn’t want to chase a big total.
Ahead of the match you had spoken about working on a few things in your batting, how did that work out?
I couldn’t play many shots and the shots that I had worked on needed a situation to be executed. The situation was such that I had to hang around and we were chasing a big total. Saha was going well and the team required that I just keep rotating the strike, hit the loose balls and not try too many fancy things.
Very satisfying to take the team to the finish line with an unbeaten knock?
I always believe that when you are set, when you can win the game for the team you don’t need to throw away your wicket. You need to make sure that the team goes through. It was the right situation for me (to do that).