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I have many more things to show the world: Pujara
From the Webdesk, 12/02/2019, New Delhi

It's only fair to say that Cheteshwar Pujara has never had it this good in his eight and a bit years at the international level. Always playing under the shadow of flamboyant stroke makers, the Indian number three finally came into his own during India's hectic 2018-19 season, which included tough away tours to England and Australia. Having made a Test hundred in Southampton, his first in English conditions, Pujara went on to reap a rich harvest down under, tallying 521 runs at an average of 74.43 - ending as India's highest run-getter and playing a leading role in the historic 2-1 series win, India's first-ever win in Australia. His hundreds in Adelaide and Melbourne set the base for grand victories while his 193 in Sydney could have also been match-winning, only for rain to save the hosts.

On a high following the successful tour, Pujara returned to guide Saurashtra to the Ranji Trophy final, only to be pipped at the post by Vidarbha. In an exclusive chat with Times of India, the 31-year old spoke about his new found star status, his feats with the bat down under, the need to value red-ball cricket and all the talk about intent. Excerpts from the interview:

Have your feats in Australia sunk in?

It was a special series for me personally as well as the team. All the players said that this is the most special overseas win. We have a young team and none of the team members had the experience of winning an overseas Test series. But we want to get better and stay at No.1. We don't want to get carried away.

When you landed in Australia, people were looking at Virat Kohli as the main batsman and suddenly you stood up and dominated the series...

Everything changed after the first innings (in Adelaide). Whenever you go for a big tour, preparation is important. I prepared very well. Then I just tried to execute my skills and I knew what the bowlers could do because I had been there in 2014. I had faced Lyon, Starc and Hazlewood in 2014. Cummins was the only new addition to their bowling lineup. But I had faced him in India in 2017 too. I knew their strategies and what line and length they would bowl.

I just wanted to bat normally. We were in deep trouble in the first Test when we were 40 for 4. I thought something special is needed to win this Test and I knew that I just had to bat through the first two sessions and didn't think about anything else. And when we lost Ashwin, I thought that I would have to accelerate at some point since I was batting with tailenders. I was really pleased with the kind of shots that I played.

You played more positively...

The situation demanded that. When you are batting with the tail, you always have to play your shots. There is a perception about me that I don't play too many shots, but I try and not play them until the situation demands.

Did you make technical changes to your stance and grip?

Not my grip, but some changes to my stance and some other things. I don't want to talk about them because bowlers will prepare accordingly and plan.

Your father (Arvind) was unwell during the Australia series and was undergoing a heart procedure. How tough was it for you to focus?

Before the surgery, our family doctor told me not to worry about anything and to just focus on cricket. Dr. Patil was the guy who did his bypass five years ago. He assured me that there wouldn't be any complication in his procedure. My father too asked me to just focus on my game. I was lucky that my wife was there with him. She also told me to just focus on my game as we had an important game the next day (Sydney Test). I was confident that he will be fine. But when I was walking in to bat on day one, it was not easy. I was waiting for the end of the day so that I could quickly message my wife and check on him. I am glad I could still focus. Luckily, I am a tough cricketer mentally.

Can you tell us how tough it is to play in Australia?

They're very strong. They're well-aware of all the conditions and their bowlers always have a very good plan to get the batsman out in their conditions. So, they're well-prepared and they know what they're doing. Even their crowd will always support them.

Even their media..

Yes ... everything. Even their media is always supporting their team. If you make any error, they always let the opponents know. So, as an Indian player, if there's something wrong, or even if there is a minor discussion in the team, and if their media person gets to know, then they'll always go behind that player. It's part of their strategy, which we understand. There's a little bit of sledging which is going on. But luckily, I'm someone who doesn't get affected. In fact, I get motivated when they try and sledge me.

Do you remember any instance when the Aussies tried to intimidate you?

There were many instances but I remember the first Test. Nathan Lyon and Tim Paine tried to sledge me. They almost felt that the game was over when we were 40 for four, they thought that we'll be bowled out for 150-160. And even later on, I think in the third or fourth Test, they were trying to sledge me but at the same time they started laughing in the end. Lyon came and told me: 'Aren't you bored of batting now? You've scored so many runs.'



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