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'There is a lot to play for in the England series'

By HARISH KOTIAN
February 04, 2021 07:39 IST
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'There is the World Test Championship final, which we are aiming at, so we need to win a few games to achieve it.'

Cheteshwar Pujara

IMAGE: Cheteshwar Pujara celebrates a courageous half-century in India's second innings with Rishabh Pant on Day 5 of the Brisbane Test. Photograph: Matt Roberts/Getty Images
 

India created history when they became the first team to beat Australia at the Gabba in Brisbane in 32 years, to clinch the four Test series 2-1.

In one of the greatest turnarounds in cricket, India bounced back in style after their shocking collapse in the pink ball opening Test at Adelaide when they were shot out for 36 -- their lowest score in Test cricket.

Despite Captain Virat Kohli returning home for the birth of his first child, India displayed incredible determination to bounce back with an 8 wicket victory at Melbourne with Skipper Ajinkya Rahane leading the way with a century.

An inspired India then produced a remarkable rearguard action with the bat on the final day to draw the third Test in Sydney after looking set for a certain defeat at one stage.

There was no looking back from that point onwards, as India despite missing all their frontline bowlers including Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, outclassed Australia at their Gabba fortress by three wickets to register their second consecutive Test series triumph in Australia.

Senior pro Cheteshwar Pujara was once again India's key performer in the series with three half-centuries in the last two Tests, including the crucial innings of 56 on the final day at the Gabba.

Puji -- as he is called by his team-mates -- posted two crucial partnerships -- 118 for the second wicket with Shubman Gill (91) and 61 for the fourth wicket with Rishabh Pant (89 not out) as India chased down 329 on Day 5 to break the 69-year-old record for the highest run chase in a Test at the venue.

In the concluding part of an exclusive interview with Rediff.com's Harish Kotian, Pujara reveals how India pulled off the sensational run chase at the Gabba.

That last day at the Gabba is regarded as one of the greatest days in Indian cricket history.
Can you reveal what Ajinkya Rahane and you discussed before the start of Day 5? Did you discuss having a go at the target?

We just wanted to bat normally, not to think too much about the last day, whether we want to win or whether we want to. Throughout the Test match, we didn't think too much ahead, we just wanted to take it one session at a time.

I felt the most crucial part of the final day was the first session when I was batting with Shubman Gill. We didn't want to lose too many wickets and that is what we did.

I think we batted really well in the first session which laid the foundation for the others to follow.

I felt the first session was really crucial and we tackled it really well. That is why we were able to win the Test match.

India tackled Nathan Lyon successfully in the series as he picked up just nine wickets in the four Tests at an average of 54. Was that one of the key reasons behind our triumph?

Ye,s it was. Our batting coach Vikram Rathour mentioned before the series that we have to handle him well.

All the batsmen had their own individual game plan against him. I felt we tackled him really well because he is one of the best spinners Australia has produced and he has been bowling really well over a period of time.

Did you get the feeling that Australia were a bit overconfident thinking that India would not attempt to win the game, considering the previous match in Sydney when we battled to a hardfought draw?

Not really. Even if you see the Sydney Test, we had our chances. I was batting really well, but I got out, otherwise we had a good chance to win the Test match.

Also, (Hanuma) Vihari got injured at the wrong time. Despite the injury he still batted really well to take the match to a draw.

I still believe that if I didn't get out when I did and Vihari was around, then we would have been able to win that Test match also.

I wouldn't say Australia were overconfident. They were trying their best to win the game, but that didn't happen.

IMAGE: Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur during their match-turning partnership for the seventh wicket during India's first innings in the final Test in Brisbane. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

The young players did exceeding well throughout the series, but how did you rate the performance of Mohammed Siraj, who lost his father before the Tests, but played a stellar role in the triumph with five wickets in the second innings in Brisbane?

All the young players showed a lot of character. I feel the reason we succeeded in Australia because all the guys who got the opportunity, they performed.

I feel that the partnership between Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar was the most important partnership in the Gabba Test because they put on more than 100 runs (123 runs for the seventh wicket).

If that partnership didn't happen then Australia would have got a lead of more than 100 runs. They ensured that Australia didn't take a big lead and ultimately we were able to chase down the target.

You were the most senior player in the team along with Rahane, Rohit and Ashwin.
Your roles were different this time around since so many young players came into the team.
Did you talk a lot to the younger players in the team?

See, I am someone who will always try and contribute whenever I can.

With the young players, sometimes you need to just tell them what is expected of them. If they are making mistakes, you just to remind them what they need to do.

They were some nervous times for youngsters, so you got to look after them. You don't need to tell them too much, but you need to tell them at the right time if need be.

So it is not only the young players, but anyone else in the team.

If you have any inputs, you tell the support staff or the captain -- whether it is Virat or Ajinkya.

If I feel anything I will always share my inputs. That is how a team can be successful because if you pass on your views, it can help the team.

How important a role did the support staff play in such a scenario? Like the physio who got you back to batting after the injury blows at the Gabba? The coaches and other support staff members in the dressing room who kept lifting your spirits during every break?

Yes, of course they played a big part. Even to tackle the quarantine the support staff played a good role. I don't want to name any one particular support staff member, I would say everyone did a terrific job, starting from the head coach (Ravi Shastri), batting coach (Vikram Rathour), the other coaches, and everyone else who was there.

When you are winning, everyone needs to come together and perform... all of us were together in this great victory.

IMAGE: The Indian team take a lap of honour at the Gabba after winning the Test, January 19, 2021. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

This break after a long Australia series must be a good relief, getting time to spend with the family before you move to another series and another period of quarantine and bio-bubble.

It is always important to be around with the family. It was good to see my daughter, my wife and my dad after a long time. Spending a few days at home always helps.

How do you spend time during the quarantine or bio-bubble period when you are in the team hotel during tours?

You need to figure out activities that you like. I am someone who likes yoga, I also try and do some training in the room.

We get some training programme from the trainer to be done during the quarantine. We basically need to figure out some activity so we don't get bored during the day. It is important to engage yourself with some activity.

How do you look at the Test series against England?

The England series is very important. I will make sure that I play my natural game and continue doing my job for the team.

There is a lot to play for in the series, there is the World Test Championship final, which we are aiming at, so we need to win a few games to achieve it.

I will bat the way I know.

England will be confident coming into this series after their 2-0 series whitewash in Sri Lanka.
How do you look at the challenge of playing against a fast bowling attack featuring James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer?

They have a good bowling line-up and they have been doing well in Tests in the last few years. They have done well in Sri Lanka, so we can't take them lightly.

At the same time we are playing in India so we have the home advantage. I am sure it will be a good series.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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England's tour of India 2021

England's tour of India 2021