File image: Indian cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara during India's tour of Australia
Cheteshwar Pujara is already considered one of India’s batting greats in Test cricket and yet, he has not been able to make a mark in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for some reasons or the other.
In the first five IPL seasons, the 33-year-old has represented the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Punjab Kings (earlier called Kings XI Punjab). Pujara will now be playing under MS Dhoni in the upcoming IPL season for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
Pujara spoke to Moneycontrol exclusively on a range of issues. Here are the edited excerpts of the conversation:
Q. Is playing in the IPL after a gap of seven years some sort of a relief, or is it pure excitement since there will be no undue pressure to go bang-bang from the word go as CSK’s philosophy is different from other teams?
A. First of all, I would like thank the CSK team and management for putting faith in me. CSK has a great record and we all know about that. I will try to learn a lot from the team and will also get guidance from them (coaching staff). I am really looking forward to it.
Q. Captain Dhoni is known to transform an individual’s game. How important will his presence be?
A. Of course, it is a very significant factor. Mahi bhai is one of the most experienced players. I don’t have to add anything about his stature as an iconic captain but yes it does help as he knows a lot about my strength and game. He will try to get the best out of everyone.
Q. After the recent home Test series against England got over, what did you do on the batting front as far as preparation for the IPL is concerned?
A. See, I can’t reveal much about what I did on the batting front, but yes, I have certainly done my own home work. I have worked harder on certain aspects and I am sure it will show results in the tournament when I play. I utilised the time for the improving my skill.
Q. Once IPL is over, all of you will be heading for the World Test Championship final (in England). How important is that game for someone like you who gives a lot of importance to Test format?A.
That will be a huge game for all of us because we have worked very hard to reach there. Each Test and series was very important for us which has taken us to England for the final. This team has shown that we have got tremendous potential and hopefully we will do well in final as we have been doing in Test cricket for a long time.
Q. Recently, you became the sixth fastest Indian to enter the 6,000 runs club. Were you surprised that only Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli were faster than you?
A. Of course, it is a great feeling when you get to know about such milestone but I don’t pay much attention to stats since I always think about what is my role for the team and how can I help in winning matches and I try to play accordingly. There is a still lot to achieve in my career and there is no need to focus much on milestones because it will keep happening if I continue to do well for my country.
Q. You are also among rare Indian cricketers who have done well on back to back Australia tours. If you scored a lot of runs (521) in 2018 and were highest run-getter, you didn’t do badly either in 2021 even though you scored 271 runs (which were just three runs less than Rishabh Pant’s who was most successful for India). Are those two tours your defining moment in cricket?
A. Any tour of Australia is always a big challenge and very important for us. In that sense, the 2018 win was the most special. And then of course our last series win was also very special because the team was relatively weak as some of the senior players were not there and some of them were injured and not available for all the matches. As a team, it was a huge achievement and personally it was very satisfying. Fortunately for me, whatever I had planned for those tours, did click. Australia is one of the best teams and is a benchmark. Their bowling attack is one of the best in world cricket and doing well against them gives you some pride but you can’t be sitting on past laurels. You have to start afresh for a new challenge.
Q. Even if belatedly, it seems you are finally getting your due. There is perhaps an acknowledgment that a certain style adopted by you allows the Rishabh Pants of the team to play with full freedom which helps the team?
A. The team management has always backed me for my role. Every player has to play according to his strength. Especially [the matches] away from home, which are most important because you have to negotiate the challenges of the new ball. My role is clear that the top order shouldn’t lose too many wickets and that is what I try to achieve. At the same time, [the likes of] Rishabh sticks to his strength. The team is only successful when roles are defined clearly and everyone is doing what he is expected to do. It’s about collective effort which we take most.
Q. For many, you come across as an unlikely cricketer for a modern generation who is not very active on social media. Does anyone tell you that you need to change yourself?
A. My focus is always on the game but at the same time I am also active on social media. But every individual is different. If something is helping me not to get distracted from my cricket, it’s a positive thing. No one questions me why I am not doing certain things. People start appreciating that one is doing the right things, setting examples by being disciplined but my point is simple that you have to be much disciplined as a cricketer. If you want to play Test cricket, you got be disciplined, there are no two ways about it and you have to maintain a routine.
Q. Has fatherhood changed you? Is it a bigger challenge in COVID times to be away from family for such a long duration?A.
Mostly, whenever we are away from family is a tough challenge, since you start missing them.
But nowadays she has been watching me on TV and comes to stadium along with my wife. That helps all of us!
Q. Cricket runs in your blood (both father Arvind and uncle Bipin have played first class cricket) so do you expect your daughter to carry the legacy?
A. (Laughs) Oh, it’s too early for that as she is just three years old. I won’t force her but later on she can take her decision.
Q. Of late, there are many options for each slot across the formats for Team India which is a great sign for Indian cricket but as a player, does it sometimes make you insecure – what if I fail in a couple of matches? How do you deal with this?
A. As an individual, if you think like that you can’t be successful. Competition is always good and bench strength is also very important. We have the challenges of different formats, injuries and so many matches being played these days. As a player if you want to be successful, you have to play well consistently. Whenever there is a competition, you will keep getting better.Click here for more cricket news from Moneycontrol