His eyes are firmly set on the goals. He walks the hard yards. Cheteshwar Pujara oozes commitment.
Here, he is, in Chennai’s searing heat, to play in the TNCA first division league for MRC-A. “I want to get some match practice ahead of the Test series in the West Indies,” he told Sportstar.
Although he is tuned in to the demands of the modern game, an old fashioned goodness in Pujara is unmistakable. There is this honesty in his smile, strength in his dedication and truth in his words.
Here is a man who fought the forces that threatened to consume him with sweat, mind, heart and technique to emerge India’s leading batsman on the historic tour of Australia.
His 521 runs in the four Test series down under included three centuries and came at a whopping 74.42. Pujara, much like his inspiration Rahul Dravid, is unassuming, humble, but already has a place among the contemporary greats of the game with 5426 runs in 68 Tests at 51.18.
Growing up Pujara was hugely influenced by Dravid and often sought the maestro’s guidance during the years that shaped his cricket. “But I do not try to copy him. I have my own game.”
Like Dravid, his game is based on a sound defence and he too has composure during times of distress. “Keeping my mind blank helps. I do not overthink. Between deliveries too I keep my mind blank and it helps me concentrate better.”
A crucial technical change in Pujara’s game a couple of years ago made his batting more secure. He worked on his backlift, got his willow to come down straighter rather than from third-man.
Talk to Pujara about this and he responded, “That certainly was one of the factors that improved my batting. Technique is important but there are other elements such as your preparation and your mind.”
It is Pujara’s belief, that strength of mind, that enabled him make comebacks when he was according to many, rather unfairly, dropped from the Test side.
“You do become sad but you reflect and come out stronger. I always had the confidence in my game to come back,” said Pujara.
Ask him about showing ‘intent’ in the middle and Pujara replied, “It is more about how you respond to different situations. You need to see the conditions, the quality of the bowling, and the needs of the team.”
Pujara’s strong back-foot play has enabled him take on the fast and furious bowlers away from the sub-continent. “I can play the cut and the pull shot. Footwork is important.”
The Saurashtra batsman said he could score runs quickly if the occasion demanded. “I have played a lot more strokes when I am with the tail and there is a need to score faster for the team.”
Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are the toughest pace bowling pair Pujara has faced. “Pace, bounce and movement, they had it all.”
Now Pujara is eyeing another season of sunshine and glory.
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