Cheteshwar Pujara: I try to ensure players don’t take any pressure

Saurashtra is high on confidence after its morale-boosting win in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals, declares batting stalwart Cheteshwar Pujara.

File Photo: Cheteshwar Pujara scored an unbeaten 67 but his assuring presence, too, contributed to his team’s win.   -  Getty Images

On Saturday, against Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra entered record books by chasing down 372 — the highest winning target ever clinched by any team in the history of the Ranji Trophy.

All of Saurashtra’s players — seniors and juniors — thanked batting stalwart Cheteshwar Pujara , or Chintu bhai as he is known, for making them believe a turnaround was possible despite conceding ground in the early half of the quarterfinal contest.

Pujara, speaking to Sportstar, clarified his role was to tell the players how to handle tough situations. “They already are aware about what needs to be done,” he said.

Buoyed by the morale-boosting victory, Saurashtra is high on confidence, admitted Pujara, and will look to have a positive approach to the upcoming semifinal against Karnataka.

Excerpts from an interview

Q. Saurashtra scripted history on Saturday, registering the highest winning total in the history of Ranji Trophy. How do you see the performance of the side?

A. We have some good young players who have come into the Saurashtra Ranji team this season. I can name a few. One is obviously Harvik [Desai], who has done really well this season. He is someone who has played for India’s U-19 team also. I am sure he has a bright future. Along with him, there is a left-arm fast bowler, Chetan Sakaria. He also has a bright future.

Both of them have brought in a lot of good things to the team. Apart from them, we already had some good players like Arpit Vasavada [and] Prerak Mankad who have been there in the team for a long time. Even Snell Patel — the wicketkeeper-batsman — has been doing well for the team. Now that we have Harvik in the side, our opening pair is also doing well.

After the victory, captain Jaydev Unadkat said you had made the team believe it could win the contest. Even Harvik thanked you for cooling his nerves. How do you motivate the players of Saurashtra?

They already are aware about what needs to be done, but my role is to tell them how to handle tough situations, especially playing in knockout tournaments. If you are playing against a quality bowling line-up, then [I suggest to them] what kind of game plan they should have. They are already talented and all I am trying to do is ensure that they try and play to their abilities and don’t take any pressure. Be it for this game, or otherwise.

A jubilant Saurashtran team after its quarterfinal win on Saturday. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

While speaking to this publication on Saturday, coach Sitanshu Kotak, stated that with you around, the side is confident of chasing down even 400-plus scores in the second innings. This happens because the team members feel that Chintu bhai (as they fondly call you) himself can pile up 200 runs. Do you think it helps the team and take the pressure off the juniors?

(Laughs) Yes, it does. See, ultimately what matters is the experience. Personally for me, having played at the international level and having featured in tough series, you know what to expect from a five-day game. Luckily, we were playing knockouts, which are of five days now. It is as good as playing a Test match. Obviously, the standard is different, but the game plan and the way you prepare for a game remains similar. And you also have a chance to make a comeback [in the game].

Read | Cheteshwar Pujara’s assuring presence helped Saurashtra, says Sitanshu Kotak

In a four-day game, you might up end up relying on the first innings, but when you are playing a five-day game, you need to ensure that you are up to the mark in both the innings. That is what I conveyed to the team, and that is what they did. The credit goes to the bowlers, who were exceptional in the second innings in the quarters. Overall, knowing all the players and the support staff does help you. You know what to expect from them and if you share a rapport, then you have a healthy environment in the team.

You joined the Saurashtra team after a successful Australia tour. As a professional cricketer, does it require any change in mindset when you shift focus from international cricket to Ranji Trophy?

When it comes to focus, I don’t think you need to change much. When you are playing at the international level, you are always focussed and are always playing under pressure. When you come here, the pressure is still there because when someone like me plays the quarterfinal or the semifinal, there [are] a lot of expectations from the team-mates and even from the people across the country. And also, [from] all the people [of] Saurashtra. There is pressure, but at the same time, you can’t think of all such things and [you] try and focus on what you can do as an individual.

After the tour of Australia, where the Kookaburra ball is used, Cheteshwar Pujara had to adapt to the SG Test ball in India. Photo: AP

 

So, when it comes to preparation, I don’t think you have to make any changes when you are shifting from international cricket to domestic cricket. Since I was playing in Australia, getting used to the SG ball and the Indian pitches and bounces were obviously different. If you have more time to prepare, it is always good but for the quarterfinals, I did not have enough time after the Australia series. Sometimes, you just need to get used to certain things and luckily it was a five-day game so I could prepare well for the second innings and put up a good score.

In the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy, Saurashtra will take on a formidable Karnataka side. Playing Karnataka in Bengaluru is always challenging. So, what are the areas that the team will be working on? And also, what would your advise be for the young players?

We would still look to play good cricket rather than worry about whom you are playing. If we play to our potential, we know that [we can win]. Such [a] victory in the quarterfinals, where we chased the highest [total] ever in the history of the tournament, is always a special victory. It boosts [the] team’s confidence and everyone believes that we can make a comeback from any situation. I feel we just need to play to our ability rather than worry about what Karnataka does or who their players [are] or what their strengths and weaknesses [are]. You can obviously talk about it one day before the game.

Obviously, there will be game plan which I can’t talk much about at this stage. But we will look to play good cricket and I think this is possibly one of the best Ranji Trophy victories for Saurashtra in many, many years. So, this team is very high on confidence and we have a very good team and that is the reason we have won this match. If you just have one or two [good] players, you can’t win such games. Everyone contributed to this victory and that’s the biggest positive for us.