From video games to ‘balance of mind’ - Pujara’s unique journey

Cheteshwar Pujara got into the habit of praying to God and meditating early in his life. Arvind, his father, tells Sportstar how it came about.

Arvind Pujara..."For any cricketer, the key point is the balance of mind." Photo: Shayan Acharya

As cool as a cucumber — that’s how most cricket pundits prefer describing Cheteshwar Pujara when he is on the field.

Pujara has, over the years, created a perception about himself. He is calm and composed on the field and it is nearly impossible to gauge his mind when he is in the middle. At a time when many like to express themselves on the field, Pujara appears to be different.

How did the 30-year-old begin to achieve this ‘balance of mind’? It all started with video games.

As a kid, Pujara would spend most of the time playing video games and there would be days when his father, Arvind Pujara, and mother, late Reema Pujara, would find it tough to take his eyes off the screen. He would play on for hours.

The habit of meditation

That’s when his mother came up with a plan to ensure that the kid took time away from his hobby. “She asked him whether he wanted to play video games or not. Cheteshwar said, yes. And then his mother told him that uske liye roz paach minute ka puja karna padega (for that, he would have to do puja and meditation for five minutes every day),” his father, Arvind Pujara, told Sportstar.

Pujara senior, however, did not like the idea. “I told my wife that she should not be putting any conditions on the child for playing video games. I did not like it. It was kind of blackmailing,” Arvind said. However, his wife revealed the real reason. “She wanted him to keep faith in God and meditate for some time as that would help him cool the mind. It had two effects — he slowly started keeping faith in God and started meditating,” Arvind said, adding that this exercise helped him improve his game.

Cool as a cucumber: Cheteshwar Pujara en route to his 86 against West Indies at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium. Photo: PTI

 

“For any cricketer, the key point is the balance of mind. In batting, technique can be taught but the key is keeping the mind cool, and that’s something which cannot be taught. It has to come naturally,” Arvind explained.

That lesson, early in life, helped Pujara immensely.

Advice from guruji

From an early age, he would also accompany his mother to the Ramji Ashram in Gondal. “We have our family guru (Haricharan Dasji Maharaj), whom Cheteshwar is very fond of. Even now, he makes it a point to visit him whenever he is in Rajkot. That bonding has also helped him a lot. The guruji is of 92 and he has been able to help Cheteshwar make the right choices,” Arvind said.

He still remembers how Pujara’s life took a turn at the age of 18, when he lost his mother. “After her death, he went to guruji and he advised him that now that mother was no longer around to take care of him, it was his duty to ensure that he takes care of himself and focusses on his game. Those words moved him,” the father explained.

Even today, Pujara makes it a point to take time out of the schedule and meditate for a while. “That’s something he has been doing for long,” Arvind revealed.

Perhaps that’s why Pujara has been able to bounce back despite failures. “Even after tough tours, we maintain a common strategy that come what may, he has to play to his strength and have confidence,” he said.

‘Play by the merit of the ball’

After a rather forgettable England tour, Pujara scored 86 in the first Test against the West Indies at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium here. Most interestingly, he maintained a 75-plus strike rate in the first session on the first day — something of an anomaly. But his father and coach explained it — “His principle is simple — play by the merit of the ball. In Test match, there are times when you have to go on the defensive. But when there is a chance, accelerate the strike-rate.”

The real test will be in Australia, Arvind admitted. What is the special strategy ahead of the tour? “It is an important tour and we are working on a few things. But I will not tell what those things are,” the seasoned coach said with a smile, before quickly adding: “You will see once the tour begins.”

Over the years, that’s how the Pujaras have prepared for the toughest of Tests — quietly but steadily.