Pujara: 'I'm not surprised by this century, but many people are'

India's Test No. 3 on emulating Williamson's T20 game, and the need to play without trying to prove a point

Nagraj Gollapudi
Cheteshwar Pujara drives down the ground, Rajasthan Royals v Kings XI Punjab, IPL 2014, Sharjah, April 20, 2014


Cheteshwar Pujara has a T20 century. Read that again. A hundred in Twenty20 cricket. Used to scaling peaks in Test cricket, Pujara has failed to climb beyond the foothills in the limited-overs version. But the 61-ball century against Railways has given him the confidence of being able to change that perception.
It was his fifth century across all formats since the epoch-making Australia tour, where he finished as the Man of the Series. Hours after the latest knock, he told ESPNcricinfo that if you are good against the red ball, playing the white ball is a "piece of cake".
How special is this century?
It is special. This was expected because I have done well whenever I have got the opportunity in white-ball cricket. I am not surprised by this century, but I am sure many people are. I knew this one would come at some stage in my career, and this is the right time. I have been really batting well. Good form in Test cricket can help you bat well in shorter formats. It helps you get into good positions, you pick the ball early so I am really happy. Although it came in a defeat, but it was a close game where Railways needed 12 off the last over and they pulled it off.
It has been 12 years since you first played in T20 cricket. Clearly your hunger has been as strong it was back then?
I have not played T20 games consistently. At times the wickets have been tough and matches have been low-scoring. But when you play on a good pitch, you can always express yourself. I was confident today (Thursday). I have worked hard over the last few years on my white-ball cricket, adding a few shots. Honestly, it was a flat pitch, which you expect in this format. But when you score a 100 at an international venue it feels good.
You mentioned adding a few shots. Did you play the ramp or any such stroke?
Not really. The prime example I could give you is of Kane Williamson. If you look at his T20 batting - he even got an Orange Cap in the IPL (2018) - most of his shots are cricketing shots. That is what I look up to. I like to make runs similarly. If I have to play unorthodox shots, if need be at some stage, then I will work on it if the format requires that. I am not against that, but my success has been with cricketing shots and I will stick to that as long as I can. But if the field is set in such a manner that I need to play the paddle or scoop, I can do it.
What are your favorite scoring areas?
I cannot really tell you. Having said that you can't have a favourite area. You just have to play according to the field. If the third man is up or if the fine leg or square leg are inside, you have to clear them. You cannot just keep scoring as per your strengths. Sometimes you read the situation, read the bowler and bat accordingly. You have to be really open. That is what I learned from AB de Villiers. He plays all the shots and he scores everywhere around the field. Obviously I cannot replicate what he does, but I am also trying to play into the gaps.
How much of your T20 batting is instinctive?
It is very much instinctive. The reason is, you need to be really up for it. Sometimes you have to pre-plan strokes. If you see a ball and if you feel like going for it, you just have to go with the momentum. You have to be fearless. Basically, if you have any fear you just have to remove it and start playing your shots. Sometimes you make an error, which is fine in this format, which is accepted. In Test cricket it is not. That is the difference.
You did not play many dot balls. Is it okay to leave or defend some balls in T20s?
Very rarely you look to leave or defend the ball. Not at least on a flat pitch. Most of the times you are looking to score. Dot balls are not something you try and play in this format. The format demands you have to look to score at all times.
"If I have to play unorthodox shots, if need be at some stage, then I will work on it if the format requires that. I am not against that, but my success has been with cricketing shots and I will stick to that as long as I can."
You came into the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy after the record-breaking Australia tour and runs in the Ranji Trophy knockouts. How much did that help?
That helped me a lot. If I am able to pick the ball early, I am seeing the ball well. Even in Test cricket, like in Adelaide where I was batting with the tail and had to accelerate, I had to play strokes like the pull, upper cut or go over the top, I was able to do that. It is very tough to do that in Test cricket. But after that when you play against the white ball, which does not swing much, does not spin much, and also travels further, you have a lot of advantage. You can play through the line. Your confidence level is on the higher side. If you can play some shots against the red ball, then (against the white ball) it is a piece of cake.
For a batsman, the strike rate is the most important metric in T20 cricket. Yours was 163.93 against Railways. Is that added pressure on you?
It is not about my strike rate, but it is about how the team's run rate is. You have to play to the situation. You assess the pitch and if you are batting first, you figure what is a good target you want to set as a team. It does not matter (whether you score) nine or ten runs an over.
Does this century prove a point in any way - not to anybody in particular - because there is a perception that develops about players?
I agree (on the perception part) and understand your point, but I never play to prove a point to someone else. This innings gives me a lot of confidence. Things will get better from here. Once you can trust your game, once you work on something and it pays off, then you know this is a method you can follow.
You played through the innings. Did you opt to open?
Yes. It gives me enough time, especially in this format, I can score runs with cricketing shots. This is where (in the top order) most of the good players who have played all three formats have batted - Kane Williamson, Virat [Kohli], Mike Hussey. You always need one player who can play cricketing shots, which gives you more results.
You played in the IPL for five seasons from 2010-14 with three sides (Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab). However, in the last few years you have entered the IPL auction and gone unsold. Why do you keep putting your name in every year?
I think twice for sure (gone unsold). I put my name in because somewhere down the line I am very confident about playing white ball, whether it is ODI or T20. If I am not picked, I am not picked. But with such results, if I can carry on like this, people will start noticing. Even franchises might take notice. If I am still not picked I will carry on doing things I am doing. I don't want to change anyone's perceptions.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo