Cheteshwar Pujara eager to prove himself in limited-overs cricket

Cheteshwar Pujara will lead India A on tour of South Africa next month © Getty Images

Mumbai: Jul 15, 2013

Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara thinks he needs opportunities to prove his mettle in the shorter formats of the game, as he prepares for the tour of Zimbabwe and leading India A in South Africa next month.

Pujara told the Indian Express: “I think once I get the exposure and opportunity to play the ODI format, then people’s minds will change. Initially people used to say that I’m scoring big runs in domestic cricket but had doubts whether I will be able to do the same thing at the international level or not, so there was a question mark at that time. But I believe that it will change in time to come.”

The right-handed batsman said he will not be changing his style of batting as he prepares to make his debut for India in one-day format.

“My technique is correct. Yeah, maybe at times, you need to learn more shots and you need to play according to the situation, but that comes with experience. I think I have the basics, now it’s just about shifting the gears at the right time, and that comes with more matches at the international level,” he said.

Pujara agreed that with the ICC changing playing rules in the one-day format, it is important for the batsmen to be technically correct as the challenges are different. He said: “With the two new balls, it does make a difference, and you have to be technically correct. If you are playing on a flat wicket, then it’s a different story altogether, but when you are playing overseas, you can’t play your shots from the beginning, and you need wickets at the end to accelerate. And with the new rules, you have five fielders inside [the circle], so even acceleration becomes easier once the ball is old. But you need to have wickets in hand.”

The 25-year-old batsman said his prior experience of playing in South Africa and the tour of the India A side will help him prepare better for India’s next Test assignment later this year.

“I have been to South Africa. I have played two Test matches, so I have some experience, but the A tour will be very helpful, for me and a few other players who will be part of the Indian team in November-December. It will really help to score some runs and get some experience in these conditions before the main series.

“It was my first tour abroad with the Indian team. There were many challenges. The South African crowd was good but at times even they were sledging. At times you get irritated, or you feel angry, but ultimately you have to know where your focus has to be, and what you need to do. Even the conditions were challenging. As we all know, it was bouncy, and there was a lot of lateral movement,” Pujara said when asked about India’s previous tour in 2010.

Pujara admitted that many times the practise wickets are not the best ones, but a batsman cannot let anything hamper his preparations.

“In my hometown, we don’t have much facilities and many times in India, we don’t get the best practice wickets. If you want to improve, you have to utilise whatever conditions you have. During practice, if a ball stays low or if it climbs, you just forget about it and focus on the next ball. I had the same mindset in the match. If something weird happens, you can’t help it. Nobody can. The best batsman in the world, he will also get out if something weird happens,” he expressed.

Talking about his innings in the New Delhi Test against Australia, Pujara said: “I had a double hundred in Hyderabad, so I was full of confidence. And what they were trying to do was, they were trying to bowl fast. The Delhi wicket was slightly slow. The balls which were pitched up, it was easy to hit them, and even the balls which were short, you just had to go on the backfoot and time it. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for us, they were not bowling too many length balls.”

Pujara admitted it is his ability to hit off-spinners against the turn. He said: “That’s my strength, I would say. Not just because of the practice. Once you reach the pitch of the ball, you can hit the ball any side, if it’s an off spinner, you can still hit him through the covers, because you have reached the ball. It’s because of technique, rather than practicing in difficult conditions.”

The Saurashtra batsman who has four hundreds and three half-centuries to his credit, says a hit straight down the ground is what makes him feel good, if hit early in the innings.

“Maybe a straight drive. Initially, if I get a loose ball, and I can hit it straight down the ground, then you feel confident about your body position and your bat-swing and everything is perfect. If you are not set, you tend to be careful, and defend it rather than drive the ball. Even in Delhi, early on in the first innings, I hit Mitchell Johnson for a four down the ground, which went past mid off. Such a stroke fills you with confidence. You know that everything is correct. Your technique is correct, you are in good form, you’re sighting the ball well, so that’s the shot,” he said.

The right-handed middle order batsman once again defended his habit of playing the pull shot, which has sometimes resulted in his dismissal.

He said, “See, I believe that it’s a scoring opportunity, but you have to understand the conditions. You can’t just keep playing the shot and getting out to it. I believe a pull is an easier option than the hook. I’ve decided, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that in the middle, to play the pull rather than the hook shot. The hook is a little difficult. I’ll practice a little more and find out whether I can play it or not. At the moment, in conditions when the ball is coming fast at you, it’s better if I avoid the hook shot.”

The right-handed middle order batsman once again defended his habit of playing the pull shot, which has sometimes resulted in his dismissal.

He said, “See, I believe that it’s a scoring opportunity, but you have to understand the conditions. You can’t just keep playing the shot and getting out to it. I believe a pull is an easier option than the hook. I’ve decided, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that in the middle, to play the pull rather than the hook shot. The hook is a little difficult. I’ll practice a little more and find out whether I can play it or not. At the moment, in conditions when the ball is coming fast at you, it’s better if I avoid the hook shot.”

Having successfully replaced Rahul Dravid at the No 3 spot in the Indian batting line-up, Pujara also believes that there is no use in over-analysing or thinking about the game.

He said: “Now I’ve realised the way to be successful. You can’t overanalyse. You have to leave it to god at some point in time. You have to do so many other things in life. Cricket is not the only thing to do. I like to watch movies, I like to listen to music, I like spending time with my family. When you interact with them, they tell you about what’s happening in the world.”

“Four-five years back, I was so focused on the game that I didn’t even know what was happening in the world. At times then, I was bored with the game, where I felt that I was not doing anything else. If you perform well, everything is fine. But when you are not performing well, you get frustrated. Then I realised this is not the way. Obviously, I want to be successful, and whatever I have to do to be successful, I have to do it the next day. If you’re out the first day of a match, you can’t do anything else, so let’s utilise that moment, and go out somewhere or do something other than just think about the game,” he added.

Talking about India’s head coach Duncan Fletcher, Pujara opined:  “He’s very natural. He doesn’t disturb you unless he feels there’s something wrong in your technique. He has a vast knowledge, but he keeps everything simple. If you have the basic technique correct, he doesn’t interfere with small things. Wherever he feels there’s a major change required, he’ll come to you and say, this is the thing that’s required. You don’t need to do it right now because the series is going on, but whenever you get the off-season you get it corrected.

“He was telling me [during Test series against England], not just me but even the other batsmen, that we had to play the sweep shot when the ball was turning a lot. I believe England’s players, they were getting many runs playing the sweep shot. He told us, “this might help you, it’s not that you have to do it, but if you have the option, then the bowler will start thinking where to bowl to you.” I tried doing that, and against Australia, I tried a few sweep shots, which helped me get a few runs. I’m not very good at it. I can’t say that I can play it as well as Matthew Hayden, but I’m trying to develop it,” he added.

Pujara rated his innings of 82 against Australia as his best so far.

“It’s very difficult to say this is the best innings, but the one I enjoyed the most was to score 82 against Australia [in Delhi] and win the match on a very difficult wicket, where you feel anything could have happened. It was a low target, but even when we had 30 runs to get, and six wickets in hand, and MS Dhoni came in to bat, we were still not confident. I like that innings the most. But obviously, to score a double hundred at the international level is a different satisfaction altogether, so I can’t rate those two innings any less,” he concluded.