“What I remember of him from last year is how he wants to learn all the time. He was always around the group learning. His attitude was always one of learning and I think he has always remained humble. When a player remains humble they are absorbing stuff. When they become a little arrogant then they stop absorbing stuff, and I think he has always been about learning and trying to improve,” says Eric Simons.
Trent Woodhill concurs when he tells iplt20.com, "Last year he (Juneja) asked me more questions than any other player in a way that he was trying to absorb as much as possible. He watched Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene, Virender Sehwag, David Warner. He is very good at seeing what works for others and applying it to his own game. He is very committed and passionate and really humble and I like that.”
The youngster bided his time, picked the brains of those he could and watched and learnt and when he took the field in the 2012-13 domestic season for his state side he put it into practice and came out with flying colours. His perseverance earned him a spot in the Daredevils line-up when places opened up due to injury to senior players.
“He has a calm and confident demeanour about him. He will rotate the strike immediately and he understands his game and he plays to his strengths which is always important. It is always important to understand your own game and he has done that. He understands what he is capable of and he plays to it,” Simon added.
Juneja is a self aware as a person and a cricketer. He looks forward to learning and becoming his own person. “I don’t have an idol as such. I have never looked at any cricketer as an idol. There are many cricketers about whom I like different things. I like the hard work that Rahul Dravid puts in and the kind of player that he is, I love the way Sachin Tendulkar bats; I love the way MS Dhoni looks at a game so coolly. So there is a point that every player has, which is a positive point and I like such things (individual traits) but there is nobody, to be honest, who I would like to be. I just want to be myself,” he said while speaking to iplt20.com later in the evening after nets ahead of the game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
“I don’t set targets as such because I feel they curtail your growth. I like to take things as they come and the thing that I want to do right now is just to have a good IPL season for my team and myself,” he stated.
Excerpts from the interview:
Did spending time with DD help his performance on the domestic circuit?
Yes it did. I had words with KP and Mahela specially thinking about four-day cricket and keeping that in mind and that did help a lot in the season.
What was the discussion about and what did you learn?
Mahela spoke to me about strategic stuff, like the tactics that a bowler or batsman might apply. We especially talked about how to get settled in while you are going in to bat especially in four-day cricket and what they usually look to do.
If you have a field of short mid-wicket, leg-slip catching and deep fine-leg you are sure that the bowler is going to bowl to your pads and in swingers, so you expect that. That is what he said, “look at the field and try to understand what the bowler is trying to do and not to do that.
Because a bowler always has a plan that he wants you to do something so just try and not do that”.
When I spoke to KP he told me that even in four-day cricket it is all about positive intent. And when he spoke about positive intent he didn’t say that you should try to hit every ball or look to hit every ball. Even if you are leaving it confidently, watching the ball till the end sends back a positive message to the bowler. These are two points that I really keep in mind.
What was it like while waiting for your turn in the middle and what did you do?
The wait was too long. I tried and learnt something about every game that we played. I spent quite a lot of time with the Indian players. I used to usually be with (Shahbaz) Nadeem, Umesh (Yadav), so we used to keep discussing about the game as well as the things that we could have done better; the kind of mindset that the player should have for twenty20 cricket, etc. So in a way it was a blessing in disguise to be sitting out for such a long time because only then I valued the opportunity that I got as much as I do right now.
How would you describe your style of batting?
When I was playing for my state my role was of the main scoring batsman so I used to be pretty aggressive. I had strike rate of 150-160 odd all the time. But my role here is not to be as aggressive as I was there. So then I curtailed some of my shots a little and am being a little more careful in shot selection so that I can fit in the team properly. That is what I look to do. Wherever I go I try to look at my role and practice accordingly. If my role demands me to play a lot of lofted shots and going for the big hits I do go for that but since my role here is not as explosive as it would be for my state, I try to score runs as well as be there on the wicket.
I am pretty much a busy player who likes to shape his innings rather than be explosive from the first ball. So I prefer more of along the ground kind of shots and only hit in my areas and not hit some of the other shots.
Watching the likes of Sehwag, KP, Jayawardene, Ross Taylor, Warner etc over the last season what did you learn?
One thing that I tried to learn from everybody was which areas they prefer to hit and the way they select bowlers and attack. They don’t look to attack every bowler. And the way they shape their innings, especially Mahela, he shapes his innings beautifully and his game pretty much matches the way I play in T20. He doesn’t hit big sixes or anything but still keeps a pretty good strike rate so that is something that I look to do and I always try and get whatever I can from them.
How do you prepare while facing someone like a Dale Steyn who has a huge reputation?
Basically facing any bowler is a challenge whether it is Malinga or whether it is Steyn or whether it is Muttiah Muralitharn or anyone else you name. It is basically a challenge so if you get nervous or bogged down by the challenge then things don’t work out but if you enjoy the challenge, take it as a challenge and if you feel that you are going to enjoy the challenge then you might be successful. And again cricket is a game in which the day matters. If the bowler is not having that good a day you might be able to attack no matter how great a bowler he is. This was an advice given to all of us by Mahela. He spoke to all of us about it. So we just take every bowler as a challenge and try to do our best.
So do you blank out the bowler and just focus on the ball?
Yes that is what I spoke about earlier as well and that is what I look to do since I have been playing cricket. That is one thing that I always try to do, watch the ball and not the bowler because eventually you are playing the ball.
What are the kind of technical and mental adjustments you have to make while shifting from one format to the other?
You have to make both mental and technical adjustments. You can’t just say mental because it is the technical adjustments as well because the balls that you look to leave in four-day cricket are the balls in which you find scoring opportunities in T20. So you have to practice accordingly. And you have to practice particular shots and find out which shots actually work out for you the best so those are the shots which are your scoring shots and you can back yourself (to play them) no matter what. (Those are shots which) whenever I try and play it, nine out of ten times I am going to make runs. Other than that you also try and score a single off every ball when you are playing a T20 game because it is eventually even if you are scoring four boundaries and taking single off every ball you are having a strike rate of 140 easily so that is what I look to do.
You have impressed Simons with your ability to rotate the strike....
Whenever I am discussing about the shorter format, T20, some players take it as a game where you hit fours and sixes but for some players if you look at it from other point of view, you can always take singles have three or four boundaries and have the same strike rate as someone who is hitting fours or sixes would have. So I like to keep rotating the strike to keep busy because the only way you can get out in T20 is to have pressure of dot balls on your head. So if you don’t have the pressure of dot balls, a boundary is going to come now or then.
Have you made any technical changes to your batting?
No, I have just worked on strategy like any bowler or batsman, for any kind of wicket that I am going to play on.
What are the areas that you would work on besides your batting?
I love to work on my fielding because it’s always a positive sign to be a sharp fielder so there are some aspects in fielding that I keep working on with Trent as well. And hopefully I will become a better bowler as well in the next year.
Do you feel developing all-round helps fit into a side especially in shorter formats?
Shorter format is such a game that if you have that advantage of getting in a couple of overs for your team and also and be a good fielder then you are looked at as a package. Twenty20 is all about looking for such players. More all-rounders you have in a team the stronger the team looks. So even if I can chip in a couple of overs and maybe work more on my bowling and if the captain finds me good enough for this level then I could actually ease the burden from some of the players because not every bowler has a good day. So that could be an added advantage something that I am looking to work on.
What is your favourite shot?
And do you shadow practice?
I keep doing a lot of that and I also keep visualising the bowlers. Even when I am in the room and sometimes my roommate gets frustrated by me, but that is alright.