Cheteshwar Pujara: 'Indian batsmen will benefit by playing county cricket'

Not too long ago, this technically well-equipped cricketer with patience and focus found himself, rather unfairly, out of the Test team.

So much about Pujara is a throwback to another era.   -  R Ragu

Cameras clicked, flashbulbs went off, and Cheteshwar Pujara was swarmed by aficionados. Here was a man with old fashioned values in the modern era.

He does not have the trappings of a cricket star but the admiration for him is spontaneous. There is so much to like in this modest man with loads of character.

The batting ace from Saurashtra was at his courteous best while visiting the shop ‘Sports Suppliers’ here on Sunday.

Not too long ago – the year was 2015 – Pujara’s career was at the crossroads. This technically well-equipped cricketer with patience and focus found himself, rather unfairly, out of the Test team.

When he finally received an opportunity in the decisive third Test at the SSC ground in Colombo – as an opener on a seaming track against an eager bunch of Sri Lankan paceman – Pujara faced a ‘perform or perish’ situation.

“It was the defining innings for me. I had to believe in myself. It was not an easy track to bat on,”  he remembered.

When many others struggled, Pujara responded with a match and series-winning innings of 145 not out, carrying his bat in the process. His Test journey was back on the road.

Even as got ready for the forthcoming Test series in Sri Lanka – in several senses the land of his destiny – the 29-year-old Pujara remembered the time he spent with his idol and batting legend Rahul Dravid in the India ‘A’ team.

“Before I went to Sri Lanka in 2015, he told me to wait for my opportunity, said I was only one innings away from a comeback,’’ Pujara said.

He added, “Rahul bhai also told me there was nothing wrong with my technique. His words were so reassuring. He is such a humble person.”

Even as Pujara spoke, an inherent honesty in him came through forcefully; here was a player with values, who respected the older generation of cricketers.

His Test record too – 3798 runs in 48 matches at 51.32 is outstanding. But then, Pujara has, rather unjustly undergone scrutiny for his strike rate even though his primary job as a top-order batsman is to build the Indian innings.

Asked the question, Pujara was unruffled. “The strike rate depends on the situation the team is in, the conditions, whether the ball is seaming around or spinning, and the quality of the attack.”

Pujara elaborated, “You can’t enter with a set mind-set and tell yourself ‘my strike rate will be 70’ in a Test match. It doesn’t work like that.”

Having returned from a county stint in Nottinghamshire where he became good friends with Stuart Broad and Samit Patel, Pujara said, “Indian batsmen will benefit by playing in the county cricket, in conditions that cannot be found in India.”

A top performer for India in the hard-fought 2-1 Test series over Australia at home this year, Pujara said, “It was one of the best series I ever played in, very hard fought. The way we fought back, particularly in the Bengaluru Test was remarkable.”

Then he signed off. “I have to catch the flight in the afternoon, continue my preparations for the Sri Lanka tour.”

Pujara’s commitment shone through. So much about him is a throwback to another era.