Cheteshwar Pujara is one of the most accomplished batsmen in Test cricket in the world right now. In the age of bam-bam cricket, Pujara brings a sense of calm and patience while batting at the number 3 position for India. He has bailed out his team from tricky situations in several situations and is always one of the first names in the starting eleven for Team India. Even though he has established his name in the longest format of the game, Pujara has been unable to secure a team in the Indian Premier League.
Pujara last played in the 2014 season for Kings XI Punjab but his low strike rate has deterred suitors in the past few seasons. Some players have had similar strike-rates (110 approx) but got picked by franchises but the architect of India's historic series win in Australia in 2018-19 has been left high and dry.
Does it hurt or irk him, letting others decide about his credentials as a T20 player?
"As a cricketer, I can't have that opinion. Also I feel that I am someone who will never have such egos because I have seen and known IPL auctions to be tricky," Pujara told PTI during an exclusive interview.
"I have seen world class players like Hashim Amla go unsold at the auctions. There have been lot of good T20 players, who have missed out on auction. So I don't have any big ego that they are not picking me. Yes, given a choice I would like to play IPL," said India's most important Test batsman alongside skipper Virat Kohli.
Does he feel to be a victim of public perception so prevalent in the Indian cricket eco-system?
"I would say yes, it's a perception being tagged as a Test player and I can't do much about it," said the man who set up India's 2-1 series win in Australia with more than 500 runs in the 2018-19 away series.
"I have always said that I should get opportunities and once I get opportunities, then only I can prove myself as white ball cricketer. I have performed well in List A cricket (average of 54), also in domestic T20s (century in Mushtaq Ali Trophy). I have done well in List A games in England.
"Performance is something which I can control and I will do that. Only thing I can do is wait for my opportunity. I am more than happy to play all formats. As long as I playing the game, I will remain a student of the game as there is no end to what you can learn. But as and when I get an opportunity, then only I can change the perception.," said the affable man from Rajkot.Other years during IPL, Pujara is in England playing county cricket either for Derbyshire, Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire which wasn't possible due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Isn't it frustrating that when all his India mates will be getting to play matches (in IPL), he can only have net sessions with still no clarity on domestic cricket?
"Disappointed 'Yes' but frustrating 'No'. I haven't been able to go to UK not because I didn't want to play or they didn't want me but because of the situation which is same for all cricketers.I have to understand these are tough times. It is more important to be with family and stay safe and not worry too much about not getting too much match practice. There are people, who have endured way more difficulties," he said.
Contentment is key to leading a good life and the 32-year-old with 77 Test matches and nearly 6000 runs (5840 with 18 hundreds) understands that."I wouldn't say that I feel like I don't have this or I don't have that. I am happy with what I have got," he said.
"Be it for Indian Oil in office cricket or playing for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy, my commitment is always above 100 percent. My commitment is to the game and remaining true to it. I have won matches for India."Nothing beats the feeling when you win matches for India with millions supporting you. I know that feeling and you can't beat that," he concluded.