IND vs AUS, 2nd Test: 'You need to be mentally strong, believe in yourself' - Pujara on his 100th Test journey
IND vs AUS 2022-23: The second Delhi Test between India and Australia would be the 100th Test for Cheteshwar Pujara. Meanwhile, he has credited mental strength and self-belief for his success on the road to his 100th Test.
Known for his skilful approach to batting, top-order batter Cheteshwar Pujara on Thursday said he has understood the need to have some flexibility to stay relevant in Tests, the only format he plays. Pujara, standing on the cusp of his 100th Test after an international career spanning over a decade and a half, has added new shots to his repertoire after discussions with the team management.
Last year, Pujara was briefly dropped from the Indian team during a home series against Sri Lanka after claims that he "wasn't able to move the game" and put pressure on the bowlers. Against this backdrop, how difficult was it to stay true to his methods? "Certainly, it was challenging, but the most important part is you need to be mentally strong, believe in yourself," Pujara told PTI on the eve of the second Test against Australia.
"I know how I succeeded in the first five-seven years for what I have done, and I can't change my game, but obviously, you can fine-tune and add things to your game. But, you can't change your entire game," said the man with 7000 plus Test runs and 19 centuries.
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There is also the challenge of competing with multi-format players with different dimensions of attacking games. "Each player has a different style. What I have learnt in all these years is to stick to your strengths, and you need to back that, and I have added a few shots to my game in the last couple of years and continuing to grow as a cricketer," Pujara stated.
Team management told me what I needed to add to my game
Dropped from the Indian team, he went back to English county cricket, scored heavily for Sussex, and made a comeback to become the 13th Indian to play 100 Tests. "I had already spoken to Rahul bhai [Dravid] and Vicky paaji [Vikram Rathour], and although I was left out of the team, I had clear communication that there were certain things I had to work on and there would be opportunities to play for India," Pujara expressed.
"I got my opportunity again to play that one-off Test match in England, and I was ready. I played first-class games for Sussex and scored enough runs, got enough confidence," he added. The word 'I' builds a lot of perceptions, but he understood that he needed an open mind to get back into the groove.
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"As a cricketer, having played white-ball cricket... it has helped me while playing for Saurashtra and against Sussex, I tried playing sweep shots against fast bowlers and paddle scoop as well," he recalled. Pujara said he is now open to playing unorthodox shots in the traditional format.
"That has opened my mindset, and I want to implement these in Test. You are more open-minded and flexible, which has helped me even in the last series against Bangladesh, and when we needed to accelerate, and I had to play a few shots, I could do that. I have been more open-minded and flexible to changes, adapt to situations, and open to changes in technique," explained Pujara.
There are no manuals for developing mental strength and patience. It is an inherent trait. "Patience needs mental strength and lots of practice. Preparation is important, and I learnt my patience from junior and first-class cricket," Pujara wondered. Players often speak about shutting out the outside noise, but Pujara says even positive news or words of praise at times could be a distraction.
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"I do a little bit of meditation, yoga and pranayama because it is necessary to shut out the outside noise. It is easy to say that but to do that. You must be mentally strong and sometimes detach yourself from what's spoken outside. Shut out even if it's positive news. I don't read the newspaper or check social media, and that's important," he asserted.
Some of his best knocks and best attacks he played
If one has played for 13 years, it is challenging to cherry-pick memorable innings, but Pujara does have a few favourites. "The 72 versus Australia on debut. I wouldn't have played Tests if I hadn't scored those runs. My first century outside the sub-continent was the second innings hundred at Johannesburg in 2014. The 92 at Chinnaswamy against Australia in 2017, the 123 at Adelaide in the 2018-19 series and 56 at Gabba, when I was hit multiple times on the body," Pujara stated.
Among the toughest bowlers he has faced, English seamer James Anderson, who has dismissed him 12 times in Test cricket, is right up there along with pacer Pat Cummins in Australian conditions. He also found South African pacers Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn too hot to handle during the 2011 tour of South Africa, where Rahul Dravid came to his rescue.
So, how much has he changed in all these years as a person? "I am the same Cheteshwar as a person. If you speak to people who know me, I am the same person, and I don't think you need to change as a person if you are a good human being," he concluded.
(With inputs from PTI)