India vs England Series: Cheteshwar Pujara says, ‘People have begun to understand my role in the team’

India vs England 1st Test- Cheteshwar Pujara has been India’s bulwark for ten years. As the 1st Test against England is just 3 days away, Cheteshwar Pujara spoke exclusively to InsideSport before flying off to Chennai for the first test against England. In the recent tour of Australia, he played his part in India’s remarkable 2-1 win in the four Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. He copped criticism for batting at his own pace, but as he says in this interview: “My role is important for the Indian team. The team understands it and the people, after India’s win in Australia, have begun to understand my role.’’

Pujara spoke exclusively to InsideSport as the series against England is about to start on 5th February. Check out Part 2 of Pujara interview with Senior Journalist G.Viswanath

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1


Q. A lot of people have been over-critical about the way you bat. Your defensive method and all that. Do you feel the time has arrived for them not to go overboard on your style of batting, which has remained the same ever since you started playing the Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra. ?

A. I think people have started understanding the fact that my role is very important. The team management understands that. After the recent 2-1 win in Australia, those who follow Indian cricket have realised that the role I play is crucial. There are times when you have to just hang around and even if you don’t score runs, it’s okay. When the occasion comes I always try and accelerate and do the job for the team. There is a method to it and there is a game plan behind what I do when I am at the crease.

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1

Q. The recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy for the four Test series in Australia was the 29th Test series of your career. Would you put it down as the toughest ever, especially in the circumstances that emerged because of the bio-bubble environment and also because of what happened at Adelaide and the injuries thereafter to the fast bowlers. Virat Kohli also returned home after the first Test. ?

A. Overall, it was (the toughest). We were coming out of quarantine and for a batsman it’s never easy. I was to play competitive cricket after eight months. I did not have any match practice, which is very important for a cricketer. It’s important to play some first class games before the start of a big series. I was missing out my practice in order to get my rhythm back.

So it took a longer time for me to get back to what I normally do. If I have to rate the top three series I have played, this series (2020-21) will be part of it. But beating Australia in 2018 was also something very very special. Then we beat them in India in 2017. It was also one of the toughest series I have been part of.

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1

Q.Was Brisbane also the most challenging because of number of times you defended of your limbs, body etc.?

A.It was one of the challenging knocks (second innings) I have played. The reason was that there was variable bounce at one end of the pitch. They were trying to hit that particular length. It was challenging, but I was very confident that I would be able to face it and be successful. We had to bat well in the first session (on the fifth day at Gabba). That was our game plan. We batted well in the first session and things turned around. We, and I personally was confident of making events turn around in India’s favour.

Q. How would you rate pacers Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and off-spinner Nathan Lyon and as a bowling unit.?

A. I feel they probably are one of the toughest group I have faced. No doubt about that. Because if you look around any other country’s bowling department, you will find one or two bowlers who are young and not experienced enough, but with Australia, all were experienced enough. This time they had the advantage of having seamer Cameron Green who could bowl five or ten overs in a day. Yes, Australia has one of the most balanced bowling attack.

Q. You scored 271 runs in three Test matches. How would you rate this aggregate with three half centuries. You said you did not have enough match practice going into the Test series.Two years ago you scored 521 runs in the 2018-19 series with three centuries. ?

A. It’s never good to compare two series’. This time I thought the pitches were even more difficult to deal with. Their game plan for really good. They had done a lot of home work and I was coming out of COVID time. Overall if I look back at this tour, I am still satisfied with the way things went, because not many runs were scored even otherwise. There was only one century from our side, that was by Ajinkya Rahane at Melbourne and from their side Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne scored hundreds. It was a tough series for all the batters. Overall I am satisfied, but the first two Tests at Adelaide and Melbourne could have been better.

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1

Q. 993 runs off 2657 balls in 11 Tests in Australia at 47.29. It has to be a terrific effort. Only Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid have scored 1000 plus runs in Australia. Crunching the numbers again 2640 runs overseas and the highest aggregate in Australia. In England nine Tests and 500. So you come out best in Australia. ?

A. I like playing in Australia. There is good pace and bounce there. The Australian pitches are really good once you are set and in. You can trust the pace and bounce of the pitch and start playing your shots. I agree that Australia is one of my favourite countries, not just to play cricket, but also to play a brand of cricket against the home team that plays hard cricket. When you face that kind of opposition you have to be at your best and bring out your best to beat them. In the last four years the Australian team has been one of the best team in the world and to perform against them is never easy.

Q. You have been raised on the flat tracks at the Race Course Ground and Khanderi, both at Rajkot, and also scored a lot of runs in international cricket. There was a false impression that flat track bullies cannot score consistently in all conditions in India and overseas.?

A. People used to say that pitches were flat in Rajkot. But if you play four-day cricket, no matter where, and score a lot of runs, it matters. In my case I scored runs at Rajkot and the opposition did not score as much. On occasions my own Saurashtra teammates did not. The pitch was the same for all. It’s a wrong way to judge batsmen. I am seeing that in my success in international cricket. No matter where you score, it’s still good as long as you are playing against a competitive team. Yes, one needs exposure in different places and pitches.

Q. You have been out of white-ball cricket for a long time. It must be difficult to focus only in red-ball, when most of your teammates play white ball and get game time in the middle. How did you prepare for the series in Australia and before every Test match. Did you face hundreds of balls and throw downs at each of the net sessions. ?

A. It’s never easy when you are not playing the other formats (ODIs and Twenty20). I still have aspirations of playing white ball cricket. One has to look at my domestic record in white ball, it’s really good. I got a century in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament last year. Although the standard is different, it’s still white ball in the Saurashtra Premier League. I still believe that if I can do it in these tournaments, I can at the higher level.

Yes, when you are not playing white ball cricket, you need to spend more time in the nets and also get some match practice. I did not get match practice before this tour of Australia, but I made sure that I hit many balls as possible in the nets and be in touch. I cannot say the number of balls or throw downs I faced, but almost half an hour of batting at the nets.

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1

Q. You were battered and bruised at the Gabba. Did you see doctors in Rajkot. ?

A. I am very fine. There are still some marks, but nothing serious.

Q. How many telephone calls did you receive from the Saurashtra players after your return from Australia. What did they say. ?

A. Most of them are in touch with me. They congratulated me even when I was in Australia. The good part about the Saurashtra team is most of us bond well. We keep exchanging messages. I also keep abreast of what they have been doing in the domestic tournaments.

Q. 81 Tests and 6111 runs at 47.74 . Are you happy with what you have done in ten years of Test cricket. ?

A. I am happy with the way things have gone so far. But there is a lot to play for from now onwards. I can be satisfied later on, not now. There are so many things yet to be achieved by me. I would say this is just the beginning, I still have not done things in international level that I have been able to do at the domestic level. If I carry on from here, there is a lot more to achieve.

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1

Q. Two Tests in Chennai and as many in Ahmedabad. How do you see this development because of the bio-bubble environment. Are you comfortable in a bio-bubble in India.?

A. It’s a little different, but in these unprecedented times, that’s the best way forward. We are playing in India and it’s good that in the bio-secure environment the players are not exposed much.

And the food and hospitality at home is amazing and out of the world. The people look forward to help you and serve you. They also enjoy being around. The hotel staff are more than happy to help us. They feel fortunate or privileged to help us. We Indian cricketers are really blessed on this count. Most of the people around us follow cricket. I feel we are really blessed in many ways. It’s great to have such people around us in India. People in India are great and it’s always nice to perform in front of them.

Also read: Cheteshwar Pujara interview Part 1