Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s standout performer in the last 12 months wearing the white flannels, feels he still has a lot of areas to improve on and his best is yet to come….writes Debayan Mukherjee
“As a cricketer, I always feel my best is yet to come and I have been working hard for it,” Pujara, who has just helped India rout Sri Lanka 3-0 in the Test series in the latter’s backyard, said.
“I am performing well, but I still feel there are areas I can improve and even perform better. So this is not the best phase of my life. I think the best is yet to come,” said the 29-year-old right-hander known for his craft at the crease.
In the last year or so, the Saurashtra batsman has gone from strength to strength, becoming the new Mr. Dependable in Virat Kohli’s Test team.
The second-highest run getter in Sri Lanka, amassing 309 in three games, which included two centuries, Pujara has been India’s most consistent batsman alongside Kohli since the team’s return from the tour of the West Indies last year. He aggregated 1,316 runs from 13 matches in the 2016-17 home season.
Pujara feels playing county cricket for Nottinghamshire in England has helped him a great deal.
“This was my third season (in county cricket). My first was for Derbyshire, then I played for Yorkshire. This time I played for Nottinghamshire. So I’ve always enjoyed playing county cricket,” said Pujara, who struck a century and a half-century in five innings of four games for Nottinghamshire.
“The wickets are always challenging; there is always something in it for the fast bowlers. So when you start scoring runs you feel confident as you start knowing your technique better. The culture and the atmosphere also (helps). I always have a good time playing over there and I learn a lot.”
Asked about the way India virtually bulldozed Sri Lanka, Pujara said the team played to its strength after fine preparation.
“We have always backed our strengths. All our batsmen and bowlers are very well prepared. As a team we outplayed them; that is what I think and I don’t know about how they played and how their bowlers were. They were a decent team, but we were stronger. We are the No. 1 Test team in the world and we played like that.”
The islanders surrendered meekly, losing by 304 runs in the first rubber and the next two by an innings and 53 runs and by an innings and 171 runs.
Pujara, who pays his bills by playing only Tests, will be seen in action for the national team next in November when Sri Lanka comes to India.
Asked if it would be an ideal preparation ahead of India’s tour of the mightier South Africa, Pujara said: “Playing in South Africa against South Africa will be challenging. But at least before that we will be playing three Tests against Sri Lanka in India. So the good thing is that we will all be together.
“We will have to have different gameplans and strategies when we play in South Africa, but playing against Sri Lanka in India will help us continue with our form. Conditionwise it will be different, but it is always good to play international cricket before an overseas tour.”
Does Pujara fancy his chances in the shorter formats?
“There will be a time when I will get my opportunity. At this point, all I can say is I am improving on a few things which is helping me in Tests and eventually will help me in the shorter formats.”
Pujara, who has played under M.S. Dhoni and now under Virat Kohli, refused to compare the two as captains, saying both wanted India to win.
“To me and everyone, that is the most important thing. I have enjoyed playing under MS and I now enjoy playing under Virat.”