From an early age Cheteshwar Pujara was being seen as Rahul Dravid's successor, and boosted his reputation with a classy 72 on Test debut against Australia in 2010. However, an injury sustained during the 2011 IPL ruled him out for four months. A string of solid performances while captaining India A in the West Indies recently has pitch-forked the 24-year-old back into India's Test team for the first time since January 2011, and ahead of the New Zealand series he spoke to Cricketnext about his career and future aspirations.
Congratulations on making a comeback to the Indian squad. How difficult was the period when you were recovering from the injury?
It was a very difficult period. I was obviously disappointed because as a cricketer you always want to play cricket especially when you're trying to cement your place in the team. For every cricketer, injuries are a huge setback because not only do they affect your morale and fitness but one also has to start from scratch after every injury. You're not sure of how you would react to different deliveries while batting or how your body would respond to different conditions. It takes time to acclimatise, and thorough practice, patience and resolve are required to get back to your usual self.
Having successfully made a return to India's Test team, Cheteshwar Pujara speaks to Cricketnext about his career.
I'm glad that I was able to put the injury problems behind and make a resounding comeback. I performed well on the Caribbean tour while captaining India A, and it gives me immense satisfaction to see my name in India's Test squad. I'm in a happy space and feeling very confident about my form. Hopefully, I'll do well in the Test series.
Comparisons between Rahul Dravid and you have been drawn ever since you made your first-class debut and now you're touted as the one to take Dravid's place in the team.
While I take it as a compliment that people have high expectations from me, I find these comparisons between Dravid paaji and me unfounded. He's a legend who has attained so much while I am just a beginner.
But wouldn't you concede that your style of play and demeanour are quite similar to Dravid?
Probably, yes. Like him, I also love to read books and reflect deeply on the game. I cherish the time I've spent with him. Our thoughts and opinions on many things are similar. Also, I observed that my style of batting and approach resemble the way he bats and thinks. He chipped in some useful tips which have come in handy.
You're christened as the bedrock of India's future Test team but you aren't considering an ODI player despite a domestic one-day batting average of over 50 ...
There may be a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly, our current ODI side is extremely formidable and there's hardly a place in the ODI team for a batsman. All the top-order batsmen are well-established. Secondly, people, probably have this perception that I can only play Test cricket or nature of my play is only suited for Test matches, which is completely wrong. People have not seen me playing ODI cricket. If they witness my game in 50-over matches, the myth will be debunked.
As you pointed out, my List A average is above 50 and my strike-rate is also good. I was player of the tournament in the Under-19 World Cup in 2006 and blasted a century in the semi-final. Even during U-19, I played well in limited-overs cricket. I'm keenly waiting for my opportunity in ODIs and whenever there'll be a vacancy, I am confident that my name will be considered. I like to play all three formats and I firmly believe that I have the wherewithal to excel in all formats. Test cricket is, indisputably, my most preferred format.
Did you enjoy the role of a captain during India A's tour to the West Indies?
I enjoyed the captaincy stint. I have captained before as well and it is always great to know all the players individually, their strengths and limitations. It is challenging to get the best out of each player and new challenges push you to enhance or develop new skills and keep the thinking cap on. Unfortunately this time, we couldn't perform the way we had hoped.
What was the reason behind India's uninspiring performance?
It would be wrong to blame the pitches as West Indies also played on the same pitches and performed better than us. Perhaps, we could not adapt ourselves quickly according to the conditions. Injuries to Robin Bist and Parvinder Awana didn't help.
How important is the role of your family in shaping up your career?
I think they deserve all the credit ¬for me being a cricketer. They gave me unswerving support all the while. They never forced me to do anything which I didn't like and let me do what I enjoyed. I started playing cricket when I was 4. Later my father, a former first-class player from Saurashtra, spotted the talent in me and encouraged me to pursue my interest. He became my coach and mentor.
My mother, who passed away in 2005, was very close to me and always told me to be a good human being first. She was a very religious lady and it was her dream to see me playing for India. She instilled great values and principles in me which will remain indelible. We were a middle-class family but a very happy and satisfied lot.
You made your Test debut on October 9, 2010, the same date on which your mother had passed away five years before.
Yes (pauses). I think it was destined to have happened this way. She would have been the happiest person to see me making my Test debut for India. On the morning of the Test, I wasn't aware that it was my mother's fifth death anniversary but later in the evening, my father reminded me about this and I got very emotional. Unfortunately I got out cheaply in the first innings. But I batted well in the second innings to help my team win the match. It left absolutely chuffed. I felt that my mother was watching me bat from the heaven and she must have been delighted see her son bringing laurels for his country.
Were you nervous before the Test? How did you feel after you could only score 4 in the first innings?
I had butterflies in the stomach before the Test but I wasn't twitchy. Sachin paaji encouraged me a lot and told me that once I'll spend some time on the ground, the butterflies would vanish. I was gutted when I was dismissed cheaply in the first innings. The ball from Mitchell Johnson kept very low and I was trapped in front of the stumps.
Sachin paaji again came to my rescue. He told me that I was unlucky to have got such a ball. He further stated that even if he had been batting on 100, this kind of delivery would have got him out. He then said me to forget about the first innings and concentrate on the next innings I would play. Magnanimous words from a man of his stature surely soothed the frayed nerves.
One of your friends told me that you wanted to be a legspinner in childhood but later took to batting.
(Laughs). I was a seven-year-old kid. Would you blame a kid thinking that way? This is the age where kids don't know what their metier is. They dabble in everything and proudly call themselves allrounders. When I turned 11, I realized that though I'm a decent legspinner I'm not good enough to play even at the state level. My father also pointed that batting is my strongest suit. So, I began to focus on batting.
Who were your childhood heroes? Among the current set of batsmen who are your favourites?
My childhood heroes were Sachin paaji, Dravid paaji and Sourav Ganguly paaji. Don't ask me to choose one among them!. Among the current set of batsmen, I like Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene and Hashim Amla.