New Delhi: He will be remembered as much for his skills as a finisher as he will be for lifting every ICC trophy — World T20 in 2007, World Cup in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013 — on offer. But India’s Test No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara feels MS Dhoni the Test captain was just as instrumental in laying the foundation stones for making this team under current skipper Virat Kohli the world beaters that they are. Kohli was presented the ICC Test Championship mace on Saturday after the win in the Wanderers Test against South Africa meant that no team can move ahead of India in the Test rankings at the April 3 cut-off date.
The conversation that started with congratulating Pujara on becoming a father — wife Puja gave birth to a baby girl on February 22 — soon veered to cricket as the reporter had to wait all through the Test series in South Africa — as per BCCI policy — to finally get the batsman to discuss the tour to the Rainbow Nation, his decision to play for Yorkshire, India’s rise to the No.1 ranking in Tests and the changes he has had to make to adapt to the captaincy styles of former skipper Dhoni and current skipper Kohli.
“To start with, it feels really good to retain the top spot in Test cricket and get the mace. It is something we as a team thrive to do and to be honest, be it under Dhoni or now under Kohli, the motive has always been to win Tests and not just in India, but also overseas. It is true that this team has done really well in Test cricket in the last two seasons, but to be fair, people tend to overlook Dhoni’s contribution as Test captain.
“India became the No.1 Test team under him (in November 2009). India’s longest stint at the top in Test cricket was from November 2009 to August 2011 under Dhoni. And we are looking to take that forward as a team and for that we need to do well overseas and the win in Wanderers stands us in good stead. To win on a wicket like that meant that the morale of the team reached another level,” he told CricketNext.
“Also, talking about the two captains is a bit unfair because Dhoni led for a while and Kohli has just about started off and settling down. Maybe we can do that in some time from now. But yes, it was a pleasure to play under Dhoni and it is no different to be led by Kohli.”
While the scoreline suggests 2-1 in the three-match series against South Africa, Pujara believes it was much closer than what the records shall suggest.
“Just a matter of a couple of partnerships. Trust me, things would have looked very different had there been just a couple of partnerships. The team played some really good cricket and the bowlers were fantastic. We had them on the mat in Cape Town and again in Centurion, it was the batsmen who failed to stitch partnerships,” he confesses.
Talking of Centurion, Pujara deserves as much flak for getting run out in both the innings and the sport that he is, he accepts the same and says that as a sportsman you have to move on and not get stuck up.
“Yes, it was not the best of ways to get out. But, you have to move on and think about the next game. It was the kind of wicket which I felt I could score on, but the unfortunate thing was to get run out. As a sportsman I just put it behind and started preparing afresh for the third Test,” he said.
The third Test saw a different side of Pujara altogether as he batted for 53 balls before scoring the first run. But he says that it was the need of the hour.
“Sometimes, you just have to grind it out and wait for the right balls. I was pleased with the effort I put in and I feel that the win on that wicket set the ball rolling for the rest of the ODI and T20I series. Wickets like those really make me want to pad up and hit the crease. Those are conditions wherein you need to be on the top of your game both mentally and physically. One good ball and you are back in the hut,” he smiles.
Interestingly, the wickets right through the Test series seemed to be prepared for the bowlers, but Pujara isn’t complaining as he feels that it only makes the batsmen relish the runs they score. In fact, he says that is the reason he is looking forward to his stint with Yorkshire.
“Well, nowadays you do tend to get challenging wickets a lot more and it is only fair. The Indian team had no issues playing on the wickets produced in South Africa. In fact, the county stint with Yorkshire should further help me prepare for the challenges that lie ahead of me when India tours England. The challenges that shall be thrown at us — by James Anderson and boys — is not something we aren’t aware of. This stint in England shall help me prepare for that,” the 30-year-old said.
Elaborating a bit more about his upcoming county stint, Pujara said: “I am really looking forward to it. Playing county cricket means you prepare on wickets where every ball could be the last you face in an innings. The wickets are really challenging and I love challenges. County cricket has improved me as a player and I just want to score as many runs as possible for Yorkshire and prepare for the Test series against England and the road ahead.”
Pujara’s County Championship record reads 816 runs with three fifties and three hundreds. So clearly, the team management couldn’t have expected for a better preparation ground for India’s most dependable Test batsman.