Scoring the first run of the 54th ball clearly requires some patience. Determination and resilience, more than anything else. And Cheteshwar Pujara has both in abundance. Criticised for getting run out twice in two innings in the second Test match, he was back to his best in the third and helped set up a famous Indian win, which is now being ranked as one of India’s best overseas wins of all time. Speaking to Boria Majumdar on his return, here’s Cheteshwar Pujara on the win, batting on the treacherous Johannesburg wicket, watching captain Virat Kohli bat at the other end, his forthcoming county stint and more.
Boria- Cheteshwar how satisfying was the win for the team after being 2-0 down and almost being written off. More on that wicket at the Wanderers?
Cheteshwar- It must rank as one of my favourite wins of all time. And I think everyone in the team will agree with me. Having said that we would have liked to win the series. That was the real goal. While that did not happen it does feel satisfying to come back and win the third test. It gives you confidence that you can win overseas and most importantly do well if you can play good cricket and play to your strengths.
Boria- Tell me how difficult was it to bat on that wicket? The ICC has rated it poor and having seen it on television it seemed it was one of the worst cricket wickets I have seen in my two decades of covering the game?
Cheteshwar- Yes it was certainly one of the hardest wickets that I have played on and batted in. It had uneven bounce and exaggerated seem movement. At no point did it seem that one was in and balls were jumping from multiple spots and hitting the fingers and the body. As I had said at the end of day one also it must be one of the most difficult wickets I have played on. On day 4 the South Africans applied the heavy roller and the pitch was wet to start with from overnight rain. That may have been the reason for it to play slightly better in the first two sessions. But during the third session it was back to its original self and our bowlers could roll them over and script a really good win.
Boria- 54 balls for your first run. Now that’s something you rarely see in Test cricket. Were you getting edgy that you could get out because the ball was darting around and were you frustrated at any point?
Cheteshwar- Look I did want to get a run as soon as possible. Having said that I did not get frustrated and just wanted to be out there and face anything that came my way. I knew the team needed me to be out there and if we had to get a decent score batting first you had to combat the early period of difficulty when the South Africans would really come hard. And it did feel good when I got the first run (chuckles). The dressing room too was all smiles!
Boria- Now to the two run outs. Yet again not many will have this distinction or rather not so pleasant achievement and how frustrating was that?
Cheteshwar- It was very frustrating not only for me personally but also for the team. I was playing well in the second innings of the second Test and still believe that things could have been different had I stayed out there. That’s what pained me the most. You don’t want to get run out even once leave alone twice. But what happened has happened and that’s what made us stronger and more determined to come back and do well at the Wanderers.
Boria- Will you say we had our chances and could have won the series? After all the bowling was just spectacular and the bowlers picked up 60 South African wickets in a real rarity for Indian cricket?
Cheteshwar- Yes I will agree with you. We did have our chances but we failed to grab them in the first two Test matches and I don’t want to give any excuses. It is not as if we did not try but things just did not work out. That’s what makes you more determined. You learn from your mistakes and in the third test we managed to put behind what had happened in the series and do our best. We were all very keen to win the match and end the series well. And it has given us the confidence to feel that we can consistently do well overseas if we do things right going forward.
Boria- When the South Africans were 124-1 chasing 241 was the team at any point tense and feeling the pressure? It was good to see you all hang in there and keep coming at the South Africans.
Cheteshwar- As I said to you it was slightly easier to bat during the first two sessions of day four. But we knew we needed one wicket to open things up and that’s what we were telling ourselves. I had said at the start of the series that South Africa’s batting is fragile and because they were playing five batsmen followed by Quinton all we needed to do was get that one wicket and we would have a chance. That’s exactly what happened and in the third session the wicket too started helping the bowlers making it even more difficult for the South Africans.
Boria- Nasser Hussain has tweeted that post the Wanderers batting effort no one will call the Indians flat track bullies. Let me add to that. Do you think this win now sets up the England series and we can now go to England in July with a mindset that we can clearly win overseas? Also, with a few days of extra practice in England do you think we will have a better chance?
Cheteshwar- We will surely have a good chance in England. Though the conditions in England will be different from what we encountered in South Africa we now know that if we play to our strengths we can win overseas. That’s a big plus. It helps in giving you confidence. Instil a sense of belief. Having said that we still need to play solid cricket and be competitive right through. That’s what will be the key.
Boria- At the Wanderers it was excellent to see you and Virat bat together. Two very different approaches to Test cricket and yet both equally effective. While the captain was seeking to dominate, you were determined not to get out and play a long innings. Tell me about the experience of batting with Virat Kohli and that partnership.
Cheteshwar- I have to say Virat was batting brilliantly. Some of the shots he played on that wicket were spectacular. I have no hesitation in saying he only can play those shots. He has been batting very well in all the formats of the game and was in a very confident frame of mind when he walked out. It was a key partnership because we had lost two early wickets and I must say we were delighted to put some runs together. As for myself I knew that if I played long I would get runs and add to the teams’ total. If you see I played my shots post lunch and it felt really pleased to be doing well after the failures in the second Test match.
Boria- You have opted to play county cricket again for Yorkshire ahead of the England series. At the time when the IPL will be on here you will be getting ready for the all important tour in Yorkshire.
Cheteshwar- Yes I think it will surely help and I did enjoy my stint of county cricket in 2017. I am planning to leave around mid April for Yorkshire and the experience should be of use in July-August during the England tour.
Boria- Cheteshwar, now it is the time of the ODI’s. Your take? Will you say we have a real chance now that we are also used to the conditions?
Cheteshwar- Yes we do have a very good chance. Several of the players have been involved with the Test series, be it Virat, Rohit, Shikhar, Bhuvi, Pandya, Bumrah. This will help them. And our ODI unit is very strong and there is every reason for us to believe we can win the series.
Boria- Finally, I have to ask you a question about the U-19 team. They have easily looked the best team in the tournament and the victory against Pakistan has certainly heightened expectations in India. Your take on how important the final is for the careers of these young men going forward?
Cheteshwar- Glad you asked me that question. I have come up the U-19 ranks and know how important this match is for all of them. They have a brilliant mentor in Rahul Dravid and he will do his best to ensure they don’t take or feel the pressure. All I want to say is they should not think of the game as a big final. All they need to do is play the game as one more ODI and that’s the mentality they should go with. They have already beaten Australia once and there is no reason why they won’t do it again in the final. Wish them all the very best.