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‘I see expectations as responsibility’

Cheteshwar Pujara

Calcutta: For Team India to do well in the two-Test series in South Africa, top gun Cheteshwar Pujara will have to continue performing the way he has over the past 16 months.

Not short on confidence, Pujara spoke to The Telegraph on Tuesday evening, hours before boarding a flight for Nelson Mandela country.

Pujara, 25, has appeared in 15 Tests and his total of 1,310 runs has given him an exceptional average of 65.50.

Excerpts...

On being selected for the ICC’s Test Team Of The Year...

This is definitely special, for such recognition isn’t bestowed on everybody. As a kid, I first wanted to play in the Ranji Trophy, then for India A and, finally, for India... I’ve achieved that... Being picked for the ICC team means that I’ve been doing a few things right for Team India. As I’ve said, it’s a form of recognition, one which is motivating.

Being chosen as an opener...

(Laughs) It did come as a surprise, but a No.3 is almost as good as an opener, for he could be facing the very second delivery, even before the other opener has taken guard! A No.3 is mentally prepared to effectively open.

The selection coming hours before his departure for South Africa...

You could say it will boost my confidence, any form of recognition does. However, that I scored 269 in my last first-class match (Saurashtra versus Tamil Nadu) and 113 in my last Test innings, against the West Indies, will give me the most confidence... Nothing means more, or is more satisfying, than getting runs in the thick of battle.

Benefit of having captained India A in South Africa in August...

It’s a very different environment there, so having experienced the conditions will help. But that tour was at a different time of the year and the wickets didn’t really have pace and bounce. Conditions will be different during the Test series, later this month, but I’m ready for the challenge.

Having played two Tests in South Africa on the 2010-11 tour...

I’d just about started off as an India cricketer, I was raw then... I’ve improved my game since and should be able to handle Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel far better... Three years on, I’m a more relaxed batsman and, in the intervening period, I think I’ve shown character. Today, I’m better placed, know what shots to play and what to avoid. At the highest level, you need a mind which is free of traffic.

High expectations, given his phenomenal run since his comeback (after 14 Tests, largely due to a knee injury), against New Zealand, in August 2012...

Of course, expectations are there, it’s only natural... I see it as a responsibility... I have the responsibility of breaking the bowlers’ rhythm. The top-order has to deliver, whether it’s at home or overseas. For me, it’s a challenge (to come good in South Africa), not a question of more pressure.

If he’s aware of his fantastic Test average...

(Laughs) It’s not that I keep memorising it, but the average keeps popping up here and there. Well-wishers seem to keep reminding me about it every now and then. It’s nice to have a good average, but it’s nicer when the team benefits. It’s all about Team India for me.

Finally, the upcoming Test series being the first in the post-Sachin Tendulkar era...

Sachin will be missed, for sure, but he had to go one day.