"Management has been always supportive, it's just the outside noise" - Cheteshwar Pujara reacts to criticism after crucial knock

Pujara (L) and Rahane (R) struck twin fifties to help India set a target of 240
Pujara (L) and Rahane (R) struck twin fifties to help India set a target of 240
Srinjoy  Sanyal

Under-fire batter Cheteshwar Pujara quelled all theories about the axe falling on him and Ajinkya Rahane, saying the team management has backed them through their lean patches. The senior duo scored counter-attacking half-centuries to help India set South Africa a tricky target of 240.

From the start of 2020 to India’s second innings at the Wanderers, Pujara averaged 26.21 and Rahane a gloomier 25.03. With rookie Shreyas Iyer having a memorable debut recently in Kanpur and Hanuma Vihari always in the reckoning, pundits and fans alike have been after the duo’s heads.

Pujara, though, revealed that he has just focused on his training while the Indian thinktank has unwaveringly supported him.

“The team management has been always supportive, so I would say it’s just the outside noise. The coaching staff, the captain, everyone is behind all the players. And we’ve been working hard, there are times when you don’t get too many runs but, the important thing as a cricketer is about following the right routine, having good work ethics, and keep working on your game.
“Because there are times when you’ll not get runs, but if you follow the right processes, you get runs on the board. So this is what has happened today and, I am sure this form will continue and we’ll get big scores in the next game as well,” Pujara said in response to a Sportskeeda query at the post-day press conference.

While Rahane scored a fighting hundred in the Melbourne Test in December 2020, it’s been three long years since Pujara reached triple figures – 193 at the SCG in January 2019.

Elaborating on the faith the team management has shown in the proven performers, Pujara remarked that he seeks technical inputs from both Rahul Dravid and Vikram Rathour before every game.

“Batting is discussed with both Rahul bhai and batting coach Vikram bhai. I spoke to them before this innings as well – we keep talking about technical stuff before every game. And that’s very important to understand your own game – which shots you can play, which shots shouldn’t be played,” Pujara, who scored 53 off 86 in India’s second innings, added.

After India were bowled out for 266, the Proteas reached Stumps on Day 3 on 118 for 2 – just 122 runs adrift of what would be the third-highest successful chase in Tests in Johannesburg. Captain Dean Elgar is batting on 46 off 121 and Rassie van der Dussen on 11 off 37.

“We’ve been learning from Sunny bhai” – Cheteshwar Pujara responds to legend's comments

Cheteshwar Pujara has scored just 918 runs since the beginning of 2020
Cheteshwar Pujara has scored just 918 runs since the beginning of 2020

You always hope for match-winners to turn the tide. But when Cheteshwar Pujara (3 off 33) and Ajinkya Rahane (0 off 1) were yet again dismissed for single-digit scores in the first innings, even the legendary Sunil Gavaskar went on to say, on air, “After those two dismissals, one can say that they probably have just the next innings, both Pujara and Rahane, to save their Test careers.”

Asked to react on the cricket-turned-broadcaster’s comments, Pujara acknowledged that questions ought to be raised when someone is going through a trough. However, he retorted that he’s lived up to the famous saying: "Form is temporary but class is permanent."

“We’ve been learning from Sunny bhai – whenever I have spoken to him, he has always been supportive. So yes, there are times when if you are going through bad form, there will be questions, no doubt about that. But we are confident players – myself, Ajinkya – we know we are working hard on our game.
“And, there is a saying, ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’, so I feel that applies here, I feel that if we keep working on our game, we have done well for Indian team in the past and management has showed lot of faith in us and that will pay off for sure. It has already paid, but I feel that as we keep playing more, as a batsman once you are back in form, you keep scoring runs and it keeps going up and up,” Pujara explained.

The Test match is tantalizingly poised. If the pitch holds up, South Africa will be well on course to level the series. If not, India could conquer the final frontier by securing their first-ever Test series win in the rainbow nation.

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Edited by Sai Krishna
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