India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara. (AFP) Exclusive
India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara. (AFP)

We’ve learnt from mistakes on the New Zealand tour: Cheteshwar Pujara

“It’s as big as any other World Cup final from another format,” says Cheteshwar Pujara. “When you qualify for a WTC final, it means a lot to those who are only playing in Tests.”
By Rasesh Mandani, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUN 17, 2021 05:10 PM IST

For Cheteshwar Pujara, the World Test Championship final starting on Friday presents an opportunity to be world champion, which otherwise is not possible as he is not part of the limited-overs teams. “It’s as big as any other World Cup final from another format,” says the India No. 3. “When you qualify for a WTC final, it means a lot to those who are only playing in Tests.”

It’s going to be a tough final for India with conditions at Southampton expected to be more seam-friendly, and more suited to New Zealand. In seaming conditions at home, Kiwi pace bowlers had routed India in the two Tests played at the start of 2020. Pujara, in an interview, said the team has learnt from those defeats and will be ready this time. Excerpts:

Does this final have a different meaning for those in the team who play only Tests?

It does. There is a lot to play for when it comes to Test cricket now. When you are qualifying for a WTC final, it means a lot to those who are only playing Tests. Not just us, to everyone in the team. They also understand the value of Test cricket. It’s as big as any other World Cup final, T20 or ODI.

Also read | Cheteshwar Pujara, the man for the Aegeas Bowl

Can you look back at what it’s taken for India to make the final?

It’s been hard work of the past two years. If you see, we’ve played around 18 Tests. Many players have contributed, home and away. You need to perform consistently as a team, effort needs to be put in over a period. Mentally it’s not easy. This format requires so much discipline and temperament. To do that consistently—credit to the team. It’s been a remarkable journey to reach the final.

Does the final being played in the first half of the English summer give New Zealand an advantage?

In a final, the team that plays better and commits to perform to its abilities in the course of the five days will lift the trophy. So, I don’t see one team as favourites, because it’s being played on a neutral venue. It will be a good contest. We also have quality batting and bowling units.

Your assessment of New Zealand’s bowling attack.

They have a good bowling line-up. We’ve the batsmen to tackle them. With the experience of having played them in the past, we know the game plans they will look to employ. Most of the batters faced them in New Zealand, some in IPL. It gives you an idea to prepare for a big game. But yes, they are a good bowling line-up and we’ll have to prepare well.

It’s unusual for a side to have two left-arm fast bowlers like New Zealand have (Neil Wagner and Trent Boult). Is that a big part of the challenge?

Often teams have at least one left-arm seamer… I don’t see it as a challenge because both have different variations and bowling strategies. They are both good. New Zealand has a good, balanced bowling unit and they are all skilful. They are challenging, but you need to find ways to tackle them.

Any lessons the batting unit that faced them in New Zealand may have learnt?

Well, the only thing I can say is we’ve learnt from our mistakes. I won’t be specific on what we will try to do as a batting unit. We have learnt many things from that New Zealand tour as a batting and bowling unit. I am sure we will not repeat the same mistakes.

Will the practice time you have come in handy, before the WTC final and the England Tests that follow? You are carrying a left-arm seamer as well for match simulation.

Yes, it is important to prepare well. We have plenty of time to prepare for the England series. Even for the WTC final, we will try to make the most of it (time).

India has a solid pace unit. Who is the most improved fast bowler and who is the toughest to face in the nets?

The good thing is all the young fast bowlers are doing very well. All of them are challenging to face in the nets. The best part is even when one of our strike bowlers like (Jasprit) Bumrah, Ishant (Sharma) or (Mohammed) Shami get injured, we have backups like (Mohammed) Siraj and Shardul (Thakur) to fill in the void. That is the strength of the team. You need backups when playing overseas.

Also read | Kohli will have to give himself a bit of time: Parthiv Patel

Is that why teams think twice before offering green, lively wickets?

Teams know now if they give a green pitch, even their batting line-up will be tested. They can’t afford to take things for granted. Most of the teams these days opt for a fair pitch where there is enough for the bowlers. But batters should also have a good time.

This will be one of the longest English tours?

Sometimes long tours can get frustrating. It can be challenging mentally. But the advantage is that we will have time to prepare. Besides, we haven’t played too much cricket of late. So, we are mentally fresh. We just have to accept that we are getting some cricket at this stage because there is a lot at stake.

Broad and Anderson are still going strong. Do you relish facing them?

It is always an exciting challenge to face Anderson and Broad. The conditions are such that you can’t take any English bowler lightly—whether it is the experienced guys or someone young like Sam Curran who did well against us the last time. They know their conditions really well. It’s a good challenge to have as a batter if you look forward to it. If you want to overcome a challenge, England is the best place to do it. I want to take up that challenge and I am sure it is the case with the other batters.

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