Exclusive: Cheteshwar Pujara ready to shift gearshttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/print/exclusive-cheteshwar-pujara-ready-to-shift-gears/

Exclusive: Cheteshwar Pujara ready to shift gears

Pujara is about to face an important time in his career,with a potential ODI debut in Zimbabwe.

Pujara is about to face an important time in his career,with a potential ODI debut in Zimbabwe before he leads India A on a tour of South Africa. In an interview with Karthik Krishnaswamy,Pujara spoke about these challenges and described his approach to the game,on and off the field.

You are likely to make your ODI debut on the upcoming Zimbabwe tour. You have a 50-plus List A average,and were the highest run-getter in the 2006 U-19 World Cup. You scored over 300 runs in the Challenger Trophy last year,at a 100-plus strike rate. Still,do you think there is a perception that you are just a long-format player?

I think once I get the exposure and opportunity to play the ODI format,then people’s minds will change. Initially people used to say that I’m scoring big runs in domestic cricket but had doubts whether I will be able to do the same thing at the international level or not,so there was a question mark at that time. But I believe that it will change in time to come.

‘I’ll get my chances in the ODI format’

Do you think you’ll have to change your game in any way?

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I don’t think so. My technique is correct. Yeah,maybe at times,you need to learn more shots and you need to play according to the situation,but that comes with experience. I think I have the basics,now it’s just about shifting the gears at the right time,and that comes with more matches at the international level.

With two new balls in ODI cricket,is there an increased demand for technically sound batsmen?

That’s true. With the two new balls,it does make a difference,and you have to be technically correct. If you are playing on a flat wicket,then it’s a different story altogether,but when you are playing overseas,you can’t play your shots from the beginning,and you need wickets at the end to accelerate. And with the new rules,you have five fielders inside (the circle),so even acceleration becomes easier once the ball is old. But you need to have wickets in hand.

After Zimbabwe,you have the India A tour of South Africa. What are you looking to achieve there,ahead of the big Test series there later this year?

I have been to South Africa. I have played two Test matches,so I have some experience,but the A tour will be very helpful,for me and a few other players who will be part of the Indian team in November-December. It will really help to score some runs and get some experience in these conditions before the main series.

How much of a learning curve was it during the 2010-11 tour?

It was my first tour abroad with the Indian team. There were many challenges. The South African crowd was good but at times even they were sledging. At times you get irritated,or you feel angry,but ultimately you have to know where your focus has to be,and what you need to do. Even the conditions were challenging. As we all know,it was bouncy,and there was a lot of lateral movement.

You played one important knock,in the second innings at Durban. You only scored 10,but you came in after India went from 42/0 to 56/4,and saw out the last hour of Day Two with VVS Laxman.

The score wasn’t big but I faced many balls and it was important that the team didn’t lose any more wickets. Bowlers,when they keep on getting wickets,they tend to bowl well,so you just have to break that rhythm. We were looking to set a big target,and I stayed there till the end of the day with Laxman bhai but next day,when I got out early,Laxman bhai was set and the lower-order could support him and add more runs.

Since then,you’ve made much bigger scores in similarly difficult conditions. This year,in the first innings against Australia in Delhi,you were hit twice in the hand by rising deliveries. Both times,you hit boundaries immediately afterwards. How do you put such misbehaving deliveries out of your mind?

I have practiced so much on such wickets. In my hometown,we don’t have much facilities and many times in India,we don’t get the best practice wickets. If you want to improve,you have to utilise whatever conditions you have. During practice,if a ball stays low or if it climbs,you just forget about it and focus on the next ball. I had the same mindset in the match. If something weird happens,you can’t help it. Nobody can. The best batsman in the world,he will also get out if something weird happens.

Also,I knew the strength of the bowlers. I had a double hundred in Hyderabad,so I was full of confidence. And what they were trying to do was,they were trying to bowl fast. The Delhi wicket was slightly slow. The balls which were pitched up,it was easy to hit them,and even the balls which were short,you just had to go on the backfoot and time it. Unfortunately for them,and fortunately for us,they were not bowling too many length balls.

In the second innings,you had to face spin from both ends with the new ball,from Nathan Lyon and Glenn Maxwell. You really went after them,and ended up scoring 82 from 92 balls.

I thought it was easy for me,because it was the new ball,and it’s not easy to grip the ball when it’s new,and that’s the time you can score runs. My mindset was,it wouldn’t turn much initially,because the ball was new. So I just wanted to be a little aggressive,initially,and then after 20-30 runs,go play my natural game.

Your ability to drive off spinners against the turn,does that also come from practice on difficult pitches?

That’s my strength,I would say. Not just because of the practice. Once you reach the pitch of the ball,you can hit the ball any side,if it’s an off spinner,you can still hit him through the covers,because you have reached the ball. It’s because of technique,rather than practicing in difficult conditions.

Is there any shot that,if you play it early in the innings,tells you,“yeah,I’m in form,I’m going to make a big score today”?

Maybe a straight drive. Initially,if I get a loose ball,and I can hit it straight down the ground,then you feel confident about your body position and your bat-swing and everything is perfect. If you are not set,you tend to be careful,and defend it rather than drive the ball. Even in Delhi,early on in the first innings,I hit Mitchell Johnson for a four down the ground,which went past mid off. Such a stroke fills you with confidence. You know that everything is correct. Your technique is correct,you are in good form,you’re sighting the ball well,so that’s the shot.

You pull and hook a lot,even though it’s got you out a few times. How will you use them in South Africa?

See,I believe that it’s a scoring opportunity,but you have to understand the conditions. You can’t just keep playing the shot and getting out to it. I believe a pull is an easier option than the hook. I’ve decided,but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that in the middle,to play the pull rather than the hook shot. The hook is a little difficult. I’ll practice a little more and find out whether I can play it or not. At the moment,in conditions when the ball is coming fast at you,it’s better if I avoid the hook shot.

You think about your game a lot. Has there ever been a danger of overanalysing?

In the past,there was. Now I’ve realised the way to be successful. You can’t overanalyse. You have to leave it to god at some point in time. You have to do so many other things in life. Cricket is not the only thing to do. I like to watch movies,I like to listen to music,I like spending time with my family. When you interact with them,they tell you about what’s happening in the world.

Four-five years back,I was so focused on the game that I didn’t even know what was happening in the world. At times then,I was bored with the game,where I felt that I was not doing anything else. If you perform well,everything is fine. But when you are not performing well,you get frustrated. Then I realised this is not the way. Obviously,I want to be successful,and whatever I have to do to be successful,I have to do it the next day. If you’re out the first day of a match,you can’t do anything else,so let’s utilise that moment,and go out somewhere or do something other than just think about the game.

What is Duncan Fletcher like,as a coach?

He’s very natural. He doesn’t disturb you unless he feels there’s something wrong in your technique. He has a vast knowledge,but he keeps everything simple. If you have the basic technique correct,he doesn’t interfere with small things. Wherever he feels there’s a major change required,he’ll come to you and say,this is the thing that’s required. You don’t need to do it right now because the series is going on,but whenever you get the off-season you get it corrected.

Can you give any examples of things he’s told you to work on?

He was telling me,not just me but even the other batsmen,that we had to play the sweep shot when the ball was turning a lot. I believe England’s players,they were getting many runs playing the sweep shot. He told us,“this might help you,it’s not that you have to do it,but if you have the option,then the bowler will start thinking where to bowl to you.” I tried doing that,and against Australia,I tried a few sweep shots,which helped me get a few runs. I’m not very good at it. I can’t say that I can play it as well as Matthew Hayden,but I’m trying to develop it.

Of all your innings so far in Test cricket,which do you think was the best?

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It’s very difficult to say this is the best innings,but the one I enjoyed the most was to score 82 against Australia (in Delhi) and win the match on a very difficult wicket,where you feel anything could have happened. It was a low target,but even when we had 30 runs to get,and six wickets in hand,and MS Dhoni came in to bat,we were still not confident. I like that innings the most. But obviously,to score a double hundred at the international level is a different satisfaction altogether,so I can’t rate those two innings any less.