Cheteshwar Pujara got an IPL recall after seven years when he was picked by Chennai Super Kings at the February 18 auction. He spoke to Cricbuzz recently on his white-ball return and preparations for the T20 tournament.
Do you remember your last IPL game?
It’s been long for sure (he played 30 games). I was last part of Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings). My last game, I think, was against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede in 2014. To make a comeback to the IPL means a lot to me. It is the best league in the world and I have missed out on being part of it for a quite some time
All the franchises applauded when CSK bought you. It was an unprecedented gesture. Could you take us through your emotions at that point in time?
I could not have been more pleased. I am really proud and happy about that gesture by the franchises. It is the respect one gets for representing the country. I thank the franchise, Mr Srinivasan and Mahi (MS Dhoni) bhai for showing faith in me.
CSK owner N Srinivasan told Cricbuzz that he could not have let you remain unsold as you are a national hero after your heroics in Australia. Any comments?
It is very kind of him to say that. I feel privileged to be part of such a franchise which respects the performance of the players for the national team. I am lucky that I will be playing under Mahi bhai who was my captain when I made international debut. And when Mr Srinivasan, who has been associated with cricket for a long time, says such things, it feels great. It is an emotional moment for me.
All these years you didn’t have takers in the IPL. Did you think you were assessed harshly?
There has been a perception that those who play more of Test cricket are usually ignored in the shorter format. So even if you want to prove your abilities as a T20 or a white-ball player, you get very limited opportunities. When a white-ball tournament is happening in the domestic circuit, I would be busy playing for the Indian team. But when I had a chance to play white-ball games in county cricket, I actually performed well. I know I can do well here but I have not had sufficient opportunities to showcase the talent. When Mushtaq Ali or Vijay Hazare tournaments happen, I would be busy with the national team most of the times.
Two years in a row, Gujarat Lions played in Rajkot and you were not in the scheme of things.
Well, I was disappointed that I was not picked. But that was not in my control. It would have been nice if I was part of that side. That is in the past and I have moved on.
Right before the start of the first IPL in 2008, you smashed a quickfire century for IOC against Central Railway at the RCF ground in Chembur (in Mumbai). And you told journalists you’re preparing for the IPL. Since then the league has grown in many ways. What about Pujara the T20 player of 2021?
I don’t overrate myself as a T20 player. I can’t say where I stand as a T20 cricketer but as a cricketer, I am in much better space. Having played a lot of cricket at the international level, I am very confident I will do well in the shorter format too. I feel I am part of the right setup in the IPL. That is the best thing that could have happened to me. The franchise, its captain and support staff…, there are many people who can guide me to do well. I also understand the game well now and I also know what to do in the IPL. I love playing cricket, I don’t want to miss out on any format. I am glad that I am part of the IPL now and it can only help me grow as a cricketer.
How are you preparing?
I can’t be very specific about what I am doing. I can say I am practising the shots needed in this particular format. There are areas which I can keep working on, which can give me results in match situations. Preparations are similar to that of the Tests, you assess the situations and practise accordingly.
What are you doing about your six-hitting practice ahead of the IPL?
Of course, I am working on that. Hitting the ball out of the park is a shot needed in the shorter formats and I am working on it for sure.
You step out to spinners and play along the ground. When was the last time you lofted a ball?
I remember when we were playing against New Zealand in a Test in Indore, I stepped out and lofted Trent Boult over mid-off (it went for four). It is not that I have never played such shots. I also had a hundred in a white-ball game in domestic cricket (against Railways).
Where do you fancy your chances in the batting order?
Well, that is up to the captain. When I join the side, I will know what is expected of me.
One sees Indian youngsters with high back-lifts and pronounced backswings. Do you feel a compelling need to do these things in the IPL?
Higher back-lift always helps generate more power. There is nothing wrong in having that. What the youngsters are doing is absolutely right. That is needed for the shorter format and for the longer format, you need a different strategy.
Did the image of a Test specialist work against you?
That perception is there. When you are playing one format, you don’t get enough opportunities in other platforms.
Do you think you deserved a fair deal in ODIs? India missed a batsman like you in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
I can’t say on the World Cup. What I would say is that I got a few opportunities for the ODI team and then I was left out. If I had a longer run in the shorter format, I would have become a better ODI cricketer, without doubt. By the way, all my ODI games were away from India.
It is thought T20 adulterates the technique of Test players, makes them commit to deliveries they would rather leave. Do you agree?
Not at all! The two formats require different techniques. One has to master both. You need to find ways to adapt and adjust. Knowing your game is important here. If you know that, you can make the adjustments.