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Strike rate never an issue, I always play with responsibility: Cheteshwar Pujara

India Today logo India Today 11-09-2016
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It couldn't have come at a more favourable time for Cheteshwar Pujara. With two back-to-back centuries in the ongoing Duleep Trophy, India's Test No. 3 has put to rest any talk about his form ahead of start to a busy season for Team India. After having also completed 10,000 runs in first-class cricket, Pujara, in an exclusive chat with the India Today, tells how pumped up he is for the 13 Tests ahead and why he had no reason to believe critics who questioned his technique after a few disappointing outings in international cricket.

Ateet Sharma: Great show in the Duleep Trophy. These tons must've also come as a huge relief to you.

Cheteshwar Pujara: Yes, relieved a bit. Happy with my performance and also the team's showing. It's my first experience of playing with the pink ball. It always feels good whenever you score big. Batting under lights seemed a bit difficult for the first time as I had no experience playing with the pink ball earlier. But I feel that the more we play with pink ball it will be easier to read a bowler under lights with the passage of time.

AS: The reason why I used the word 'relief' was because you haven't had a very good run in Test cricket recently. The big scores continued to elude you.

CP: I agree, overall I couldn't get the big scores which I wanted. But, at the same time, my contribution to the team, the 70s and 80s against South Africa, that too on challenging wickets, was a good one. Team totals weren't that big too in that series. In West Indies, I got a good start in the first Test before playing a wrong shot. In the second Test, I was batting well but unfortunately got run out. Many times you are batting well but can't get the big score. Sometimes, you just have to accept the fact that you are batting well but the big runs aren't coming. But, I am that kind of a player who will find my way. As long as I am batting well and confident, I know that l will continue contributing to the team's success. If I am batting at No 3, my job is to ensure that a wicket should not fall so soon. One has to set a platform for the team, to get a big total. I was trying to do that. My overall performance in Test cricket has been quite good. I made runs in South Africa though performance in England and New Zealand wasn't up to the mark. My experience, my technique is my strength. You commit a mistake for the first time but with more experience don't repeat it. Now, we are playing a lot many Tests at home and my aim will be to excel in those games. I am in a good form, made some runs in Duleep Trophy. Hopefully, this experience will be good for me.

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AS: When you weren't getting big scores, critics accused you of getting into a shell, being too defensive.

CP: The biggest thing on my mind is to play with a huge responsibility. What is the situation at that point of time, what the team demands from me. What will be good for the team. That is the foremost concern. Sometimes, when I am batting at top of the order and the ball is doing a bit, especially while playing overseas, you need to take your time. Initially. And, once I am set, I always score at a decent strike rate. I don't think that strike rate is an issue as far as my technique is concerned. You also need to realise that if the team is one down when I walk in to bat, I have to play with a certain responsibility. I can't play all the shots. What if you are two or three down early? If you see my overseas record against South Africa, I scored big hundreds. And, even in India, in Asian conditions, all of us remember how I played in Sri Lanka. It is just a matter of time. I am very confident about the way I bat. I need to back my ability. The moment I start scoring runs, things will change. As an experienced player, you read the situation first and do what the team demands from you at that particular time.

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AS: And now, with KL Rahul also chipping in, it is a happy problem for the team management. How do you see this healthy competition in the top order?

CP: It is a really good thing. You need some competition. The players should know that if you are not performing well then there is someone ready to replace you. In a way, you will always try to give your best. At the same time, you can always help each other even while competing against each other. You can even ask each other about the mistakes one is committing when going through a lean patch. You can talk with the player who is scoring runs about his experience, how he is dealing with the situation. This is a young team, it is a learning phase for us. Good thing is that all players have played alongside each other for a long time, be it junior cricket or for India A. We all know each other quite well and share our experiences which results in a good environment in the team.

AS: That also means there will be competition for the No. 3 slot, a position you absolutely love to bat on.

CP: I have done quite well at the No. 3 position. But, as per team's demands, I have opened as well. My debut was at No. 5. So, I have to be ready to bat at any slot as per the team's demands. Though my recent experience shows that I have done well at No. 3.

AS: You have played a lot under Dhoni. How do you see Virat as a Test skipper?

CP: I had a great experience working with Dhoni bhai. And, ditto with Virat. Every Indian skipper's main aim is to win the match for the country. The aim remains the same. The environment in the dressing room was also good earlier and remains like that even now. Yes, Virat is very aggressive and sets the example for others to follow. He leads from the front. The way he is batting right now and scoring runs is exceptional. He is so good in fielding as well. His fitness is brilliant. He inspires all the youngsters with his commitment and dedication.

AS: Having an experienced coach in Anil Kumble is an added advantage too

CP: He (Kumble) has played international cricket for so long. His experience is unmatched as he has gone through so many different phases in his career. He understands a player's psychology quite well and how he can contribute to it so that the end result is good. It is really helping a lot.

AS: 13 Tests at home, all geared up to score lots of runs?

CP: I will try to perform to the best of my ability. Most of the times expectations are a lot. Everyone expects a double century from you. Trust me, it is not easy to get a double ton even in domestic cricket. It requires a lot of concentration, determination and dedication. If I get set, I always try to go for the big one.

I just make sure that I play with my natural instinct and score runs.

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AS: Is Cheteshwar Pujara so serious and reserved in the team dressing room as well?

CP: (Laughs) No, I do some masti in the dressing room. I am not reserved but quiet by nature. I don't talk much. But people I get along well with, I talk a lot with them. I also make fun at times. I don't know why people have this perception that I am very reserved. I am not. Obviously, I don't talk much. But when I do, I talk a lot. There are many times when I do a lot of masti too.

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