50th Test ‘a proud moment’ for Cheteshwar Pujara

The middle-order batsman spoke to the media on Sunday evening, his eyes lighting up whenever the word ‘runs’ were mentioned.

Cheteshwar Pujara... “I shouldn’t be too emotional about my 50th Test.”   -  AP

Unassuming and excessively modest, Cheteshwar Pujara is a reticent man. But give him a bat in hand and he is transformed. There is a quiet aggression, a solidity that is palpable and a steely resolve to score runs against all opposition and on varied surfaces.

Since his Test debut against Australia in Bengaluru in 2010, Pujara coped with excessive expectations as he was compared with Rahul Dravid. He also struggled with a knee injury and there was a brief phase when he was dropped from the playing XI with his scoring-rate becoming a subject of scrutiny.

He emerged stronger, mounted a fine comeback and when India and Sri Lanka play at Colombo’s Sinhalese Sports Club Ground from Thursday, it will be his 50th Test. Pujara spoke to the media here on Sunday evening, his eyes lighting up whenever the word ‘runs’ were mentioned.

Excerpts:

The landmark

Playing the 50th Test is a proud moment. There have been ups and downs but I am looking forward to playing the 50th Test. I shouldn’t be too emotional about it. I will take it as another Test and would like to win the Test.

The 2011 knee injury

That was one of the most challenging times of my career; I wasn’t able to play cricket for a year. I came out of it and I am working really hard on my fitness so that I don’t suffer injuries any more.

The journey

2010 was a crucial year as I made my Test debut. I wanted to play with legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, and many of them were part of that Indian team. The recent Test series against Australia was the toughest and the victory was one of the best I have been part of.

Favourite knocks: Maiden Test hundred, 159 vs New Zealand, Hyderabad, 2012; 92 vs Australia, Bengaluru, 2017.

Toughest bowlers: Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel during the 2010-11 tour of South Africa.

The omission

In the West Indies, I got a fifty and in one of the innings I was run out for around 40. I was getting a start and wasn't able to convert. There was nothing wrong with my technique because after that I spoke to Rahul bhai (Dravid), who just told me that I should continue the way I have been playing. I trusted my game, worked hard and when I got a hundred in Sri Lanka, in 2015, everything changed.

  Father Arvind Pujara’s influence

He is the one who has been coaching me since I was eight years old. At times, he has been very critical but now we always speak and come to a conclusion. He is not very strict any more.

The Dravid effect

I first met Rahul bhai in 2007 when India was playing at Rajkot. When it comes to technique and experience, he is one of the best persons around. With his guidance, I have learnt a lot.

Broadening his repertoire

I have changed my intent. I would like to add a few more shots and have started working on it. Playing different formats of the game is something I would like to do.