In these times, when most strive for their fifteen minutes of Warholian fame, Cheteshwar Pujara consciously shuns it. For an international cricketer of his stature and class, the 29-year-old has managed to maintain a curiously low profile, all the while accumulating runs and laurels in the longest format. That he is not a regular part of the annual IPL bonanza and India’s limited overs set up (despite averaging an astounding 58 in List ‘A’ cricket) only adds to his intrigue. In this exclusive interview to Yahoo Cricket, Pujara opens up on a range of issues: from Australia’s hard-nosed sledging, to his frank aversion to celebrity, to India’s upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.
Does it hurt to not be part of IPL and the kind of mass recognition/ endorsements it brings?
I hardly think about being in the limelight. In fact, I don’t like being in the limelight and just like to do my job. My priority is always to improve as a cricketer and win matches for the team whenever I get a chance. I’m not much bothered about what is happening outside my cricketing zone. When you are disciplined you tend to focus on the things that would help you improve your game. I have seen cricketers outside India – people don’t even recognize them. Only in India are cricketers given so much importance, but at times you don’t even get the privacy you want to go out with your family. I don’t feel like I need to be in the limelight to gain something.
How was your latest experience in country cricket?
I really enjoyed playing county cricket this year. I have played in the past but this year I was played for a different team, Nottinghamshire. It was a new dressing room environment. We were also playing at Trent Bridge, which has a rich history when it comes to Test cricket. I think it is the second oldest cricket ground and I really enjoyed playing there. There were a lot of players there who have played for England – Stuart Broad, Samit Patel and others. It was overall a very good experience.
Would a county stint help you when India tours England next year?
It might help little bit, but the tour is a year away. You still have to be in touch with the game. It will be a different ballgame (when India travels to England) but the (county) experience always helps.
Could you tell us something about the Australia series?
The Australia series this year was one of the toughest I have been part of. They put us under pressure by taking the lead. We did not start well and had to bounce back. The way we responded is something we will cherish. We will remember the series for a long time.
There were a lot of confrontational moments in the Australia series…
They tried to sledge, not just me, but the whole team. We were very focused. We also gave them back, at some stage we also sledged. But we were more worried about winning. In the end, whoever played better cricket was the winner and it helped that we focused on the right things.
How did it feel when Australia called you the most priceless wicket in the Indian team?
I am someone who enjoys playing cricket. I don’t play it for the appreciation; ultimately you play for the Indian team. But obviously, when people like the Australians or the captain Virat Kohli appreciate you, it is a great feeling. I just want to ensure that the team wins. That is the ultimate thing for a cricketer. Appreciation is a byproduct.
Your double hundred at Ranchi is the record for most number of balls played by an Indian in tests. How tough was it to pace a knock over 500 deliveries?
I was just looking at the bigger picture. The first goal was to get the team close to 450. It was a tricky wicket; you needed to feel that you’re ‘in’. Initially, it was tough, but once I crossed 100 I was in a different zone, I knew that I could take the bowlers on. But since we had lost wickets, I cut down on my shots. When (Wriddhiman) Saha walked in we were six down, so we needed to build a partnership. Saha and I have batted earlier and we have had a good partnership in Irani Trophy. He is someone who likes to take on the bowlers, so I was just trying to rotate the strike.
Are you as intense off the field as you are on it?
I am quite relaxed off the field. But at times I am still focused, like during practice and fitness sessions. Off the field, one needs to switch off.
Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I am good at different sports. I love playing badminton, table tennis and tennis. I am fairly decent at cricket too.
Your thoughts on Sri Lanka tour ahead?
The kind of home season we had last year, we are a group who played a lot of cricket together. We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Sri Lankan pitches are similar to those in India, so we know what to expect. I’ll follow the same routine as last year and would want to continue the form I was in last season.