Bangalore, Sep 6: The departure of Rahul Dravid has left a big void in Indian Test batting. But the arrival of Cheteshwar Pujara has given lot of hope and the 24-year-old youngster is ready to make the No. 3 slot his own after emerging as the highest run scorer (216 runs) in the recently concluded two-match series against New Zealand.
The soft-spoken right-handed batsman, in an exclusive interview with ThatsCricket, stated that playing at number three was not new to him and he was very happy with the way he batted in the series.
He also mentioned about the advice he received from Sachin Tendulkar while batting with him in the second innings of Bangalore Test. He added that scoring his maiden ton in Hyderabad was a "dream come true."
With a break from cricket for now, Pujara is looking forward to score plenty of runs in the home series against England which starts on November 15.
Here are the excerpts from an exclusive interview conducted on Thursday.
Question: First of all congratulations on scoring your maiden Test ton (159). How satisfying was the series, considering you were making a comeback into the Indian team?
Cheteshwar Pujara: It was very satisfying for me to get back to Indian team and score runs, considering I was out with an injury. Scoring my maiden Test century was a dream come true. Overall, I am very happy.
Q: There was a lot of talk after Rahul Dravid's departure, on the ownership of No. 3 slot. Were you under pressure considering you replaced him in that position?
Pujara: As I have said earlier too, it is impossible to replace Rahul Dravid. He has scored more than 10,000 runs in both Tests and One Day Internationals. For me, I have always batted at No. 3 for my team Saurashtra. I have also opened for my employers Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOC). I have enough experience batting at No. 3. So it was not new to me. On the India 'A' tour to the West Indies earlier this year, though I batted at No. 4, we lost too many wickets and ended up facing the new ball. So, I am used to it.
Q: Rahul Dravid was at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium during the second Test on all four days. Did you interact with him?
Pujara: Yes, I did speak to Dravid at the ground but could not go into the details of batting. Even when I scored my maiden ton in Hyderabad, he sent me a congratulatory text message. I have been in touch with him.
Q: You were batting with Sachin Tendulkar in the second innings of Bangalore Test. What was the advice from him?
Pujara: He (Sachin Tendulkar) got me going while batting with him (in second innings of Bangalore Test). Since New Zealand pacemen were bowling lot of bouncers, he advised me to be careful. He told me to be cautious with the pull shot since they got extra bounce from the pitch. There were few other advices from him, which helped me.
Q: You got out to a hook shot in the first innings in Bangalore. Will you continue to employ that shot or completely discard it?
Pujara: I have to be careful (while playing hook and pull shots). It is better to leave the ball. But at times you have to pick the bowler and play those strokes. In Hyderabad, I managed to play more of those as the wicket suited. But in Bangalore it was different. I don't want to restrict myself. I am not overambitious (to play hook and pull). I am ready to leave the ball. I am not going to completely put those shots away.
Q: How has been the support from the seniors in the Indian team. Any specific advices from them during the series?
Pujara: They told me I was playing well, not much advice though. Even the coach (Duncan Fletcher) too said I was batting well in the 'nets' as well. They said I was in good touch.
Q: You are not part of the Indian Twenty20 squads for New Zealand series and ICC World Twenty20 2012. So what next for you?
Pujara: As of now, nothing is scheduled (matches). I will play domestic matches later and prepare for the home series against England. The first Test starts on November 15. I have enough time to prepare. I want to do well against England.