I cannot replace Dravid; no one can: Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara is one of India's fast-rising and rapidly progressing cricket stars.
He has earned favourable comparisons with Rahul Dravid at such a young age thanks to his classical technique, sound temperament and voracious appetite for runs.
In fact, he is considered to be the ideal man to replace the former formidable middle-order batsman in Team India.
Pujara, in an exclusive interview with Haresh Pandya, speaks about his successful outing in the just-concluded Test series against New Zealand.
What are your memories of the just-concluded series against New Zealand?
Winning both the Tests along with the series as well should be a special feeling, not only for me but for all the members of the Indian team. I was happy to return to Test cricket after a long time and make an impact in the series with my batting. Even though there were only two Tests, it was my first full series for India.
Were you hopeful of making a comeback against the Kiwis?
Yes, of course. After the West Indies tour with India 'A', I think, I proved my fitness and did fairly well in the Caribbean as a batsman to stake my claim for a place in the Indian team in the two-Test series against New Zealand.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'I had a good chance to score a double century'
You did very well in the series, but don't you agree the Kiwis were not strong opponents? Don't you think Team India was not severely tested or seriously challenged?
Well, New Zealand might not be as strong as, say, South Africa or Australia, but it is not fair to say we were not truly tested or challenged. We were. Ross Taylor and his teammates were very competitive and full of fighting spirit.
I think they were a balanced side, possessing some good batsmen like Taylor, Martin Guptil and Brendn McCullum; and equally good bowlers like Chris Martin, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Jeetan Patel.
They were a good Test side. And do not forget -- a Test match is, after all, a Test match. Also, there was the inevitable pressure of proving my ability all over again.
You scored a hundred on your return to Test cricket. Do you regret having missed a double century, which was probably well within your reach?
I was very disappointed, because I was very confident of scoring a double century. The wicket at Hyderabad was a good one for batting. I think I had a good chance to convert it into a double century.
My captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also felt the same way. He told me to try and go for a double century, saying that I was used to making big scores.
But he also cautioned me not to be complacent or over-excited. But I was happy that I justified the selectors' faith in me and marked my return to Team India with a hundred.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'Kohli is exceptionally talented'
Did the chase for runs required for victory in Bangalore remind you of your debut Test against Australia at the same venue in October 2010?
Well, yes, to some extent. Except the status and quality of our opponents, the situation this time was more or less similar to what I experienced then.
Though I was happy to score some useful runs, I think I should have contributed more and stayed at the wicket till the target was achieved. But Virat Kohli and Dhoni played sensibly and took India home comfortably.
How was it like batting with Kohli, with whom and against you have played plenty of junior cricket?
He is an outstanding batsman and it is always a pleasure to bat with him and see his shots from the non-striker's end. He is in terrific form, which is a good sign for Indian cricket. Kohli is exceptionally talented and has a very bright future.
Image: Virat Kohli
'Watching Tendulkar bat is an education in itself'
You batted with all the senior Indian batsmen at one time or the other during the New Zealand series. How was the experience batting with Sachin Tendulkar in particular?
It has always been a rewarding experience to bat with these great players. Whether it is Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar or Dhoni, you always learn something by merely watching them bat.
Watching Tendulkar bat is an education in itself. During our crucial third-wicket partnership in Bangalore when we were chasing 261, he gave me some invaluable tips.
He told me to watch every ball carefully before deciding the right shot; he told me to play my natural game while remaining very alert; he told me not be trapped in the ploy of Southee, who was trying to bounce the ball; he told me not to be in a hurry as we had plenty of time to score those runs.
Tendulkar had a miserable series by his own high standards. Out of three, you saw two of his dismissals from the non-striker's end. Do you think his reflexes have slowed down or he is no longer the kind of batsman he was?
I do not want to say anything about this. In fact, I am too young to make any comment on his batting. He has been one of my idols and I have grown up worshipping him.
All I can say is he is a very great batsman. And he will soon start scoring runs against England. Form or consistency can never be an issue with champion cricketers like Tendulkar.
He really does not need to be told what he should do and what he should not do. I feel both lucky and privileged to be playing for India along with Tendulkar.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar
'My technique and my temperament are my strong points'
What do you think is your strength as a batsman?
I think both my technique and temperament are my strong points. They have always stood me in good stead while facing the best of bowlers on different wickets and in different situations.
But this does not mean my technique is perfect. There are still certain areas in my technique where there is some scope for improvement. I have to try and improve those areas before the series against England.
Is there any particular shot which may be called your favourite, your signature shot?
No, there is none in particular. I prefer to play each ball on its merit. I play a wide a range of different shots, not just in the on and off, but all round the wicket.
I love to play the cover-drive, on-drive and straight drive; I love to execute the pull and the flick; I like to play the square cut. So there is not a particular shot which you can single out as my favourite.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'I am nowhere in Dravid's class'
It must be both encouraging and embarrassing for you to be constantly compared with Rahul Dravid and hailed as his right replacement, isn't it?
Yes, you are right. It is both a compliment and an embarrassment. I have repeatedly said that I do not want to replace anybody; and most certainly not Dravid.
I cannot replace him; no one can. He was too great a batsman. Just look at his record -- 13,000-plus Test runs and equally 10,000-plus runs in One-Day Internationals.
This is a phenomenal achievement, isn't it? As I have reiterated again and again, it is an honour, but I am nowhere in Dravid's class and just do not deserve to be his replacement.
Did you receive any congratulatory or complimentary message from Dravid, especially after scoring a Test century in Hyderabad?
I keep receiving calls as well as text messages from many past and present cricketers. Dravid congratulated me on my first hundred, saying I was doing very well and urged me to keep it up.
How prepared are you for the upcoming comprehensive, exhaustive series against England?
I am fully prepared, mentally and physically, to take on the Englishmen anywhere in the world.
Image: Rahul Dravid