Cheteshwar Pujara says how a fifty helped India salvage pride at Wanderers
Cheteshwar Pujara has rated his fifty in Johannesburg as equivalent of scoring a 100 on a difficult wicket and has said his stint in Yorkshire will help him prepare for a tough tour of England later in 2018.cricket Updated: Feb 28, 2018 13:15 IST
New father Cheteshwar Pujara finds it difficult to stay away from his daughter, born last week. But commitment to Saurashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy held him back in the Capital until Tuesday. Later this year, he will have to front up to England’s seam bowling. A Yorkshire stint will help prepare for that tour, feels the India Test No 3. In this chat, Pujara looks back at the South Africa Test series and talks about his priorities as batsman while still refusing to be labelled as a Test specialist.
In this series, you stood out for scoring when it mattered, not how quickly you did it. Are you happy with that assessment?
Yes, I am. What ultimately matters is the team’s victory. Sometimes you have to assess the situation and conditions and play. Prime example was my fifty in the third Test (Johannesburg). It was as good as scoring a hundred or 150 on that kind of wicket. It allowed us to post a total that was good enough on that pitch. A lot of credit goes to our bowlers. At the same time, the way we batted was also a big achievement.
You have just one century outside Asia. Does that bother you?
Not really. I’ve been scoring runs when it matters. Sometimes when you go abroad you can’t score a hundred in every Test, especially in challenging conditions. In this series, there was just one century and not many went past fifty. We were playing on tough pitches. At the same time, I was a little unfortunate in the second Test. I was run out twice. That is something I want to forget. But I was disappointed, I was batting so well. I just have to accept that.
Could the series outcome been different had you not been dismissed first ball after lunch at Cape Town?
Maybe, (but) one particular thing can’t win you the Test. At the same time, yes, things could have been different. But it’s very difficult to pinpoint one thing and say we might have won the Test. But I would say the first two Tests, we had a fair chance of winning. We had to build a partnership of more than 50 in the first two Tests and that didn’t happen. That’s why we lost. The lower middle order batted really well. If we had one or two partnerships of more than fifty from the top six or seven, we would have had a fair chance of winning in Cape Town and Centurion. Overall, we fought really well and that’s a big positive for us.
When did you realise the Johannesburg wicket was going to be really difficult to score off?
When I played a few balls and was getting beaten. I played around 20-30 balls and it was very difficult to even rotate the strike. There was a lot of deviation off the wicket. I was getting beaten by a huge margin. For example, on a turning pitch when you are beaten by spin by a big distance, you know scoring will be very difficult. The deviation was much more than what you expect from any other seaming wicket. I hadn’t played on such a wicket in my entire career.
Were you assured runs would come at some point?
I was very confident. I knew the frustration in the South African team. On that pitch, they had to take wickets. If a batsman isn’t scoring but still surviving, they know after a point there will be a time I will be able to accelerate. They were getting frustrated and I was aware of that.
The first innings at Cape Town and Wanderers were the two most hostile periods for batsmen. Were you pleased you looked the most relaxed India batsman in those innings?
I was happy how I was facing their bowlers. I was comfortable. I had a clear plan in the sense I had proper preparation, not just as an individual but also as a team. That was the reason I was able to face them with a lot of ease. Apart from that bad shot in the first innings (in Cape Town), I was really comfortable. I could read their game plans and play accordingly.
Personal success is quantified by the runs scored. How do you quantify it?
I’m not talking about the fans, but when it comes to the Indian team people do appreciate when you stick to a plan. Even teammates and the management appreciate I am contributing to the success. Sometimes even if you don’t score runs you have a role to play, and I am playing that. If it helps the team wins Tests then sometimes I am ready to sacrifice my scores.
Is the patience to grind out difficult periods on the wane among younger batsmen?
It’s too early to say. Lot of people want to play IPL, the shorter formats. That might be why most of them are stroke players and they have been successful in different formats. When it comes to Test cricket, one has to have a clear game plan, you have to be correct technically. Many of them will eventually learn that these are the things they need to adjust to. One also has to stick to his strengths.
Not being picked for IPL or considered for ODI, T20 selection -- how do you deal with these things?
There is nothing much I can do about it, but at the same time I’m very hopeful of playing different formats. Whatever I can do as a batsman and whatever things I need to improve on to play different formats, I’m doing. If you look at this Vijay Hazare Trophy, I was scoring well. Whenever the situation arose, I was able to accelerate.
Some say you are slow and can’t rotate the strike?
It’s just the perception, or one odd time. One can’t highlight that one particular innings when I took 50-odd balls. Otherwise, if you look at my career, I have taken hardly 20 or 30 balls to get off the mark. One odd occasion can’t define a person.
Isn’t it good that you have only format to plan for?
I feel sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise. When you are playing just one format, you have to wait and keep preparing for Tests. If you are not playing different formats, you are not in touch with international cricket. So, when you play Tests, you need to make sure you play domestic cricket. It becomes really hard because sometimes when you are at home, you don’t get quality practice and preparation. You still have to motivate yourself and find ways to prepare.
What aspect of your batting do you take the most pride in?
Ultimately, it’s about scoring when it matters. To score runs in difficult conditions, as a batsman that’s the most challenging task. If the wicket is flat, any batsman can score. If you are scoring on a challenging pitch, that’s the most important thing from a team’s perspective.