Pujara Sr.: This is Cheteshwar’s best innings in recent times

"Playing with a positive approach helped his son break the barriers against the Aussie spinners, who looked fiery in the first innings," says Arvind Pujara.

Cheteshwar Pujara in action on Day Three of the Bengaluru Test against Australia.   -  Reuters

A few days ago, as the Indian team suffered a humiliating defeat against Australia in the first Test in Pune, the social media was abuzz with everyone busy trolling the Indian cricketers. While many of them joked about Virat Kohli failing to understand the utility of the Decision Review System (DRS), a few fans played a fun game, asking their friends about who they thought knew Indian cricketers the best.

The answers were mixed, with the fans coming up with the weirdest of the answers. But then in reality, there’s actually someone there in Indian cricket, who knows Cheteshwar Pujara inside out.

And, the answer is simple too — his father Arvind Pujara.

Pujara senior, who has been Cheteshwar’s batting coach since childhood, laughs as he starts talking about his son’s unbeaten 79 against Australia in Bengaluru on Monday. The veteran coach takes a pause, and says that playing with a positive approach helped his son break the barriers against the Aussie spinners, who looked fiery in the first innings.

“This is Cheteshwar’s best innings in recent times. Given the situation, it was important for a senior batsman like him to show some steel. And he just did that,” Pujara senior told Sportstar on Monday evening.

Ever since childhood, Cheteshwar has made it a point to discuss each and every thing about the game with his ‘coach daddy’. So, after a disastrous outing in the first Test, Cheteshwar dialled Pujara senior to know how to get back his rhythm. “I had told him not to rush things, and read the deliveries better. In the last few innings, I thought he was getting distracted,” Pujara senior says.

Arvind Pujara, who has been Cheteshwar’s batting coach since childhood, says positive mindset has worked well for the India batsman.   -  Special Arrangement

 

His tips, however, didn’t work in the first innings of the second Test either, as Pujara could only manage 17 runs before being dismissed by Nathan Lyon. “While talking to him that day, I realised he was nervous. He really wanted someone to help him get back to form,” Pujara says.

And, after the team dinner on Sunday, it was coach Anil Kumble, who sat with the senior batsmen to help them overcome the odds. The senior batsmen, along with captain Kohli, came out with a strategy to tame the Aussie spinners. “With a spin legend like Kumble around, things could not have gone wrong. He had a long session with the batsmen that evening (on Sunday), where he exposed the chinks in the armour,” Pujara reveals.

Though he is not willing to divulge the details of that hour-long conversation Kumble had with his son, the senior coach believes, that the ‘mental boosting’ session was needed to lift the team’s morale. “For any cricketer, it is important to be mentally fresh as well. Kumble’s session really worked wonders for the team,” he takes a pause before explaining further. “Even at the time of crisis, Cheteshwar and Ajinkya (Rahane) kept their cool and stitched an unbeaten partnership of 93 runs — something you couldn’t have expected even a few days back. This shows, the team is feeling fresh again,” Pujara senior says.

Positive mindset

When Cheteshwar spoke to his father on Monday evening, he sounded confident. “I knew a big innings was on the cards,” he says. During the conversation that went on for about 15 minutes, Pujara senior advised his ‘student’ not to play with a defensive approach. “That is one thing which helped him steady the ship on Monday. Even when Lyon and Steve O’Keefe were looking dangerous, he played them on the front-foot,” he says, adding, “that is something a player must follow to come out of the rough phase.”

With India taking a 126-run lead, the match is evenly poised, and Pujara senior feels both Rahane and Cheteshwar must stick around at least for the first one hour on Day Four. “Another 100-120 runs will make the difference. Once the target reaches 250-plus, the Aussies would find it tough to tackle Ashwin and Jadeja,” he says, hoping that India recreates the magic of March 2001, when the Sourav Ganguly-led side defeated Australia 2-1 despite the Aussies taking an early lead. “In cricket, nothing is impossible,” he says with a smile.

After all, for an Indian cricket fan, memories in March are just too sweet!

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