'I'm never satisfied even after scoring a century or double century'
India’s precociously gifted young batsman Cheteshwar Pujara is not a heavy eater. Nor does he prefer to talk much. But when it comes to scoring runs, his appetite is almost insatiable. Instead of him, it is his bat that speaks eloquently. He always puts a prize on his wicket and few succeed in dismissing him cheaply.
The 25-year-old right-hand batsman, who has established himself as a scourge of bowlers, recently spoke to Haresh Pandya on many aspects of his career.
You hit yet another century, your fifth in 15 Tests, in the second Test against the West Indies in Mumbai. Were you determined to score one after failing to play a big innings in the first Test in Kolkata?
It isn’t that one failure or two spurs me to score runs. I always want to score many runs. I usually don’t set any goal for myself. The only goal I set for myself is to score runs in each and every match I play, regardless of the strength and weakness of the opponents, and wherever I play.
Didn’t the quality, or lack of it, of the West Indies bowling make your job a bit easier?
Contrary to what you and others may believe, the West Indies was a very good bowling side. I don’t take any team lightly, certainly not the West Indies, though England and Australia, against whom I’ve played some better innings, were comparatively stronger. The good thing for me was I had done well, including scoring a triple century, against the West Indies ‘A’ shortly before the start of the Test series. And some of the bowlers I faced in the Test series were part of the West Indies ‘A’, too.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'We very happy to win the Test for India and Tendulkar'
The Mumbai hundred was certainly not one of your better innings, but it was, understandably, a very special one. Wasn’t it?
Yes, very special, because it came in Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test. I couldn’t have made him a better present. We had a long partnership out there in the middle and I must say that even at the age of 41 he was still looking the same, vintage Tendulkar. He was playing so confidently and executing his trademark shots so well that it was sheer education to watch him from the other end. I was his last batting partner, as I was already at the wicket when he came at No. 4 and I was still there when he left after making a magnificent 74.
We, as a team, were very happy to win the Test for India and Tendulkar.
India is scheduled to tour South Africa. Many believe you’ll be truly tested in South Africa because all your good performances have come in India on wickets not unfamiliar to you and against supportive home crowds. Do you also think so?
Yes, because South Africa is one of the world’s top Test teams. It has an array of accomplished batsmen and deadly fast bowlers. And to perform well against South Africa, in South Africa, where the conditions are also challenging, is what most cricketers dream of. It’s a true test of a cricketer’s skills. I may have done well against Australia and England only at home, but they are such good teams that it isn’t easy playing against them anywhere in the world.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara and Sachin Tendulkar
'Criticism spurred me to do well'
You are known, and also feared, for your prolific scoring. Where does your hunger for runs spring from?
I just don’t like to get out. And when you stay at the wicket, you’ve to keep making big scores. I never get satisfied even after scoring a century or a double century. I’ve been a heavy scorer since my early junior cricket. I scored a triple century (306 not out) in an Under-14 tournament in 2000-01. There are so many good batsmen at every level in Indian cricket that you have to keep plundering runs to draw the media attention.
When I had been making runs in junior national and international cricket, many people said I should prove my class in the Ranji Trophy and other first-class tournaments.
When I began scoring double and triple centuries in first-class cricket, they said it’s not that easy to score so many runs at the Test level. Rather than discouraging, such talks spurred me to prove my mettle in Test cricket, too. I’ve played 15 Tests so far and have scored a double century each against England and Australia, two of the world’s strongest cricket teams.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'I was more satisfied with my century than my double ton against England'
Which double century was more satisfying, the 206 not out against England at Ahmedabad in November 2012 or the 204 versus Australia at Hyderabad in March 2013?
The one against England, because the wicket was turning a bit and it was difficult to bat. But both the innings were important for the team as India won both the Tests. Personally, however, I was happier and more satisfied with my century (135) against England in Mumbai than even my double hundred because it came on a challenging wicket and in adversity.
Similarly, my 82 not out against Australia in Delhi was more pleasing than the double hundred at Delhi. Though we were chasing a target of only 155 runs, the wicket was such we had to bat very carefully, especially after we lost three quick wickets.
When your runs help your team in an hour of crisis, than merely add to your personal aggregate, it’s more satisfying.
Is a triple century in Test cricket round the corner?
Obviously, I wish to score a triple century in Test cricket. It’s my dream, too.
When I scored 386 in an Under-22 tournament in 2008, people said it’s easy to score a triple century at such a level, but not in first-class cricket. I answered by scoring 309 in a Ranji Trophy match five days later and kept plundering runs pretty consistently.
When I scored 352 against Karnataka early this year, they said I should score a triple century at international level. Fair enough. I recently scored 306 not out in the third ‘unofficial Test’ against the West Indies ‘A’ at Hubli. So let’s wait and see! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
You have made this a habit of staying longer at the wicket? How do you keep yourself relaxed while maintaining your sangfroid even in adversity?
I keep myself relaxed by not thinking about anything other than the job on hand. This is also how I concentrate and not allow any stress on my mind. My focus is only on the ball. I’ve a strong spiritual base and my daily prayer and meditation help me remain calm and composed at the crease.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'Dhoni is a great leader who understands his players well'
You’ve been leading India ‘A’ for the last couple of years and doing quite well. Do you aspire to captain Team India one day?
I’m happy the selectors have confidence in my leadership ability, too, though I don’t know how good, or bad, I’m as a captain. I enjoy leading India ‘A’, but I really don’t aspire to captain the national team. I’m still in the initial stage of my international career and such thoughts don’t enter my mind.
Of course, it will be a very proud moment for me if I get to lead India in future. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been leading Team India from the front and deserves to continue to be at the helm as long as he enjoys the job.
Does Dhoni make suggestions or give specific instructions to you when you go out to bat or when you are batting with him?
Normally, he doesn’t. But if the situation demands, and he has a particular game plan, he sometimes tells me what he expects of me or how I need to bat. But if I’m batting really well and things are going well, he doesn’t say anything except ‘you’re batting well’ and ‘keep it up’. He is a thorough team-man and a great leader who understands his players well.
Image: MS Dhoni
'I haven't replaced Dravid'
You’ve made the No. 3 batting position in the Indian Test team virtually your own after Rahul Dravid’s retirement. How important is the role of the No 3 batsman? What are the challenges?
It’s a very, very responsible position. When you go for batting at No. 3, either the ball is very new or the spinners are on. Sometimes you’ve to go out there in the middle at the fall of a very quick wicket and virtually play the role of an opening batsman. And if the bowlers are on top, you may see some more wickets falling from the other end. In such circumstances you have to steady the sinking ship and build the innings brick by brick and ensure that no further damage is done.
How do you feel when even many discerning critics say that you have stepped into Dravid’s shoes?
No, no, I haven’t replaced Dravid. No one can replace a batsman of Dravid’s class. I just try to help my team in my own humble way by scoring as many runs as I possibly can with the little talent that I have. I do my best to justify the selectors’ confidence in me and try to live up to their expectations. But I never ever thought that I have replaced Dravid.
The Indian middle-order is no longer what it used to be. First VVS Laxman retired, then Dravid and now Sachin Tendulkar has also called it a day. Don’t you think this means more responsibility on you and Virat Kohli?
It was always my dream to play alongside Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. They were the stars I grew up admiring, even idolising. The void left by them can’t be filled by anybody. But Kohli and I, as well as others, try to lend solidity to the Indian in the middle-order.
Kohli is one of the most talented young batsmen in the world today. He has proved his ability beyond doubt in all the three formats of international cricket – Test, One-Day International and Twenty20.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara