Cheteshwar Pujara returned to international cricket after almost seven months when India toured West Indies. He was a bit rusty and found the going tough. But in a couple of months’ time, the right-hander once again looks well settled in the No. 3 spot of the Test team. The 28-year-old finished as the highest scorer in the series against New Zealand with 373 runs. On Friday, Pujara told TOI during an exclusive chat on how Kumble brought a change in his approach, his equation with Kohli and much more. Excerpts:
India finished as the No 1 Test side and you the top run scorer. You cannot be more satisfied…
We knew that if we can beat New Zealand, we can achieve the No. 1 ranking. With a long season where we play as many as 13 Tests at home, it was important that we start on the right note.
Talk us through your own performance. You were failing to convert the starts until you hit a century in the last Test…
At stumps on the third day of the last Test, when I was batting on 1, I had a chat with Anil bhai. He told me that I had all the shots in the book and there is no reason why I cannot get a hundred. He gave me the assurance and I went on to score the century. There are always these expectations on me to convert my fifties into big centuries. So if I fail, it does hurt. But then, I take the expectations in a positive way. I am quite happy with the way I batted in the series.
You also had a chat with Kumble at the start of the series where he had categorically told you that the pressure of strike rate shouldn’t be there on you. Can you tell us what exactly did he tell you?
Anil bhai is someone who understands the players’ psychology. He is very clear in what he wants from his players. He drew my attention to small details and told me what I should have been doing all these days. I cannot divulge anything more but I can say that the discussions with him did bring a change to my mindset and subsequently, there was a change in my intent.
Kohli also heaped praise on your batting at the end of the series. How do you see him as a captain?
It matters a lot when you enjoy the captain’s confidence and he appreciates your effort. Kohli’s aim is to win each and every match. He is not afraid to promote youngsters and that approach boosts a player’s confidence. There is a lot of energy in the dressing room as well.
But were you under a bit of pressure after the WI tour?
I wasn’t under pressure. I batted well and got a few runs. So I didn’t fail there. I like to spend time in the middle. That helps me to concentrate and gain rhythm.
Under Kohli, the team has become flexible. There is no fixed spot for any player. Does that bother you?
It is good that we have become a flexible side