After IPL, Pujara targets West Indies tour

More than IPL, Pujara will be itching to reclaim his lost berth in the Indian squad when India embark on a long journey to the West Indies.

Young Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, who has recovered from a threatening knee injury, will lead the India 'A' contingent on a tour of the Caribbean islands in June. West Indies 'A' will host India to three four-day matches, three one-day matches and two Twenty-20s.

The Indian squad constitutes a number of players who have represented India at the highest level.

Pujara, who walked into the Indian Test squad with a reputation as a run-machine in the domestic circuit, made a memorable debut against Australia in Bangalore scoring a gritty 76 in the second innings, coming ahead of Rahul Dravid at No.3. However, an unfortunate knee injury - during last year's IPL playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore - forced the Saurashtra batsman out of action for five months.

As India prepare for life after Dravid, the youngster will have to quickly settle into cricket's top level.

More than IPL, Pujara will be itching to reclaim his lost berth in the Indian squad when India embark on a long journey to the West Indies. The 24-year-old spoke exclusively to Yahoo! Cricket about his injury, IPL and the forthcoming Caribbean tour...

The following are excerpts:

AB de Villiers is one of the best finisher of the game, isn't he?

The way he batted against Deccan Chargers, calmly, in the situation was simply amazing. One of the best innings I have ever seen. He was so confident in his approach, never panicked with the increasing run-rate. He has played innings like that in the past and the way he did it again against Chargers did a world of good for the team. The kind of batsman he is, AB would definitely like to bat up the order but he has been assigned a particular role in the team and he is executing it with utmost ease. Hitting a reverse shot against spinners is fine, but to do that against fast bowlers -- you have to be AB de Villiers. He has got amazing reflexes and almost all shots in the book. He is also a complete team man.

With players like Gayle and AB on song, you must have good feeling about touching that IPL trophy this season?

Absolutely! But there are other players too, like Muttiah Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori, who have been effective in their own way. Unfortunately we can't play them both at the same time. However, with Virat Kohli and Zaheer Khan getting back into the groove, RCB has a decent chance. Our first priority however is to qualify for the play-offs and take it from there.

How is your knee behaving which sidelined you for the tours of West Indies and England after an impressive Test debut against Australia?

It is behaving perfectly now. I underwent rehabilitation for five months after the knee surgery in England, and now I can't even remember I had a surgery. It's not troubling me at all. I have been training hard in the nets and feel absolutely fit.

How important is the West Indies tour for you, considering you were picked on the basis of your performance during India's 'A' tour in England?

It is very important. Scoring runs overseas always gives you tremendous amount of self-belief and boosts your confidence. However, the West Indies tour is important for all the players who are looking to get back into contention. Our target is to win the series... and with the kind of squad we have I am confident we can do that.

Are you happy with the squad?

Absolutely! The squad consists of players who have performed well in the domestic circuit last year and represented India at the highest level.
We have players like Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, Manoj Tiwary and Abhinav Mukund, all of  whom have done well. It looks a very balanced unit.

It's a long tour, which includes three 4-day matches to start with. You will have to quickly shift your gear to Test cricket mode...

Being a professional cricketer it shouldn't be a problem. Players like Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have shown in the past that shifting to Test mode is not much of an issue. Having said that one has to be extremely sharp and focused as the tour starts soon after the IPL.

Your performance will be closely monitored assuming BCCI wants to shake things up after India's poor outing in England and Australia?

I am aware of the fact that my performance in the Caribbean islands will be closely monitored, but my job is to play good cricket there. I don't want to worry about selection. If I am playing well, my time will come. I will try to play my natural game, fulfill the national duties and leave the rest into selectors' hands.

How difficult will it be to manage players like Rohit, Ajinkya and Manoj among others who are fighting for that elusive No.3 spot in India's Test team?

Not at all because we all are good friends. Rohit, Ajinkya and I played for the Indian Oil, so I know them very well. I have played Under-19 cricket with Manoj and Shikhar also. Abhinav Mukund was part of the trip to the United Kingdom where I captained them. I know almost all of them in the squad so it won't be an issue.

Do you think Test cricket is under threat from Twenty20?

I don't think so. The excitement for the oldest form of the game is still very much alive. Players do realise that Test cricket is still the ultimate form of the game which demands a special set of skills whether you are a batsmen or a bowler. The World Test Championship in 2017 will only add to its charm. Every cricketer/team wants to do well in the traditional format of the game and the Championship will provide them an ideal platform to assert their identity.

Which form of cricket do you prefer the most?

Laughs... I love all of them. Each format demands a different set of skills and as a professional cricketer you should be equipped with necessary arsenal to meet the stringent demands of long-form cricket. Every format has its own charm and I enjoy them equally.

Coming back to IPL - the Indian domestic players have given some outstanding performances so far. How hard is it to make the playing XI?

It depends. Sometimes even if you are performing well you may have to sit out to get the combination right on a particular day. Despite doing well, Andrew McDonald - at RCB - had to sit out because Chris Gayle has been in such ominous form. Same goes for the domestic players. We have to be flexible in our approach and put the teams' priorities first.