'I can't replace Dravid'

The one batsman who basked in glory in the first Test against New Zealand in Hyderabad was Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored his maiden century playing in his fourth Test.

Coming in place of the illustrious Rahul Dravid (who has retired) at No. 3, the 24-year-old batsman’s knock led to some inevitable comments, but Pujara made it clear: “I can’t replace Dravid who has scored more than 10,000 Test runs. It is impossible even to think of that.”

Significantly, Pujara recalled the advice he got from Dravid on his last trip to South Africa where the latter suggested to him that he play to his strengths. Pujara seemed to take Dravid’s advice well as he slammed 159 (exactly the same score that New Zealand managed to put on board in the first innings of the first Test), showing a combination of patience and wonderful stroke-selection.

“Well, the best part of Pujara is that he is not content after scoring a century. He is showing the hunger to go for bigger scores,” said the former India cricketer and now a TV commentator, Ravi Shastri.

Pujara, who plays for Saurashtra in domestic cricket, was delighted on making a wonderful comeback after being out of the game for more than a year owing to injuries.

“Yes, it was a difficult phase. But I always knew that I would be back playing the game which I love the most,” he said with a smile.

“These tough phases made me mentally strong and the hunger to do better is more now. I am really pleased with the way I handled every aspect of my cricket in the first Test,” said Pujara, who has a first-class best score of 302 not out.

A prolific scorer in Ranji Trophy, the gutsy cricketer said that he had been dreaming of making such a comeback. “I remember, I missed one on my Test debut against Australia in Bangalore in the 2010 series. I am delighted with my effort,” he remarked.

Pujara said that he knew he would be batting at No. 3 and he had prepared for the Test keeping this in mind. “I could not have asked for a better time to score my Test century,” he said.

“I never felt the pressure of stepping into the shoes of Dravid. There is no point in thinking on those lines, for you have a job assigned to do,” he said.

Batting at No. 3 is not a big worry for Pujara. “Having done that for Saurashtra and sometimes even opened (the innings), I look at it as a major challenge,” he said.

India’s new No. 3 dedicated his century to his father Arvind, who is also his coach. “It was a very difficult phase for me to be out of the game. That was when my father played a big role in motivating me. I owe everything to him and I dedicate this maiden Test century to him. Without him, nothing is possible. Not many know that he himself had gone through tough times including a by-pass surgery,” said Pujara.

V. V. Subrahmanyam