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I will think twice before playing my strokes in South Africa,says Cheteshwar Pujara

Pujara has raised the bar of expectations from India's next generation of players.

Written by Devendra Pandey | Mumbai |
December 4, 2013 2:31:39 am

With an average of 65.50 in Tests and five hundreds in 15 Tests,Cheteshwar Pujara has raised the bar in terms of expectations from India’s next generation of players. But the batsman will face a litmus test during the Test series against South Africa. In a chat with The Indian Express,Pujara talks about his form,what makes SA challenging,how to deal with Steyn and Morkel,and life without Sachin Tendulkar. Excerpts.

Three back-to-back hundreds must have been ideal preparation for the South Africa tour.

These back-to-back hundreds have given me a lot of confidence. Whenever any batsman tours abroad,the one thing he wants is big scores behind him. I have got those now and it will be a matter of adapting to the conditions in South Africa. Technique-wise,I will have to make adjustments and have prepared my mind accordingly.

Apart from confidence,what else will you will take from this form to SA?

The double hundred makes a lot of difference. You bat for one day,and the next day,you come again and bat out a whole day. The fitness level is not the same and one keeps tiring. When you are set,one needs to concentrate even harder. I will take that self-belief to South Africa.

You have played two Tests there. What are the challenges for a batsman?

Apart from the bounce,the one big worry is lateral movement. The bowler might bowl an out-swinger to you but after pitching,it will come in. This only happens in SA. In my last trip,I had heard many seniors talking about it and making adjustments.

Have you thought of how to deal with this lateral movement then?

One has to cut down their strokes. I remember during my last trip,I was batting well and suddenly I played the hook shot. Later,Rahul (Dravid) bhai asked me if I play that stroke frequently. No,I said. He asked me to have patience in South Africa. I didn’t play the hook shot again. Unless you are sure of playing that kind of shot,you should just leave it.

So patience is the key then.

From whatever past experience and information I have got,even driving or flicking won’t be easy. While you are batting,many-a-times you will feel that ball is there to drive but its not. The bounce makes things even more difficult so one has to be cautious. Unless I’m sure,I won’t play shots. Patience,however,will be the key to success.

In such a short period,you have scored five tons in Tests. Worried about the expectations that comes with success?

I’m aware of the expectations. SA will be a test of my character. I will have to find answers for tough situations. It won’t be easy for sure,things will be not favouring you. I will learn from my mistakes. But I have strong belief in myself,my abilities.

Why are conditions so difficult to bat in in South Africa?

Once you step out of India,it is hard. I always believe that one can adjust their skills while abroad but the key to that is making mental adjustments. Adapting will be essential. It’s important to control your mind. I easily recognise which ball to drive when I’m batting in Kolkata or Chennai. In Johannesburg or Durban,I will check twice before playing my shots because I’m new to that place.

Who is a greater threat,Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel?

Steyn is very tough to handle because he swings the ball with bounce. It’s not impossible to see him off but one has to be very sure of what one is trying against him. Morkel has bounce and the ability to generate it from a good length. They’re both hard. It will be a learning tour for all of us.

You were Sachin Tendulkar’s last ever batting partner. How do you remember that day?

I can never forget it. I have been involved with him in few partnerships earlier but that day,concentrating was very tough. People were noisier than ever in Mumbai. It was not easy to keep my focus. He told me to relax and said we didn’t have any option but to deal with it and bat. I was happy to turn over the strike — after all,I had the best seat in the house. My only worry was that I couldn’t hear his call and I relied heavily on his hand signals.

Who will fill Tendulkar’s shoes?

No one. We can’t match his contribution. We knew a day would come when he would not play. But his tips and suggestions will always come in handy. We will miss him.

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