The first week of March was quite hectic for Cheteshwar Pujara. Soon after India’s tour of New Zealand got over, the batting ace flew down to Rajkot to join his Saurashtra teammates ahead of the Ranji Trophy final against Bengal.
There was jet lag and Pujara wasn’t keeping too well, but even then he featured in the summit clash and played a key role in Saurashtra’s maiden title win.
As the team celebrated its victory at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, the players were confident of keeping the momentum going in the Irani Cup as well.
But things changed over the next few days as the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic forced the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to put all cricketing activities on hold. It’s been four months since and there is still no clarity on when cricketing action will resume in the country.
One of the batting mainstays of India’s Test team, Pujara believes that it is important to stay positive in these trying times. “From the players’ perspective, whenever it happens, it will be good to start playing the game again. But even if it gets delayed, one can’t get too emotional about it. This is a situation where life is more important than any other activities...” he says.
After spending quality time at home during the lockdown, Pujara has resumed training at his academy in Rajkot and is confident of getting back into shape over the next “four to six weeks.”
In a conversation with Sportstar , he talks about life during the lockdown and the road ahead.
How have you been since the lockdown?
Personally for me, it was a good break, if you take it as a positive. It was mandatory and nobody could do anything about it. I had enough time to spend with my family and at the same time I could switch off from the game and then start again. So I enjoyed this break and made the most of it. When I was back to training, I felt fresh and was ready to start again.
You recently started training. How has been the experience so far?
Yeah, I have just started off. It’s not full-fledged training anyway. But we are taking all the precautions and strictly following the protocols. It is important to start getting back into the game and start practising. Your body slowly gets used to it, you get your concentration and rhythm back. I personally believe that it won’t take me more than four to six weeks from now to be back to where I was before the lockdown. You never know when the game will start; it’s still undecided. No one can predict anything now looking at the situation. So, one will have to wait and watch. At the same time, I feel there is plenty of time to work on your game, your fitness and get back the rhythm.
Now that there has been a long break in between, how much of a challenge is it for a player to get back into the shape before the season starts?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. One can’t say that I won’t be ready. I might need a few games before I start playing international cricket. If I get some first-class games, then it’s well and good. Even if I don’t, I think I will be physically and mentally ready for international games. So, I don’t have any excuse and I will be looking forward to international cricket because players haven’t played games for a long time. Whenever there is an opportunity, I am sure all the players would love to play the game as early as possible.
You missed out on the English County Championship this year. How did you cope with that?
We were in a situation where one couldn’t play any sport, whether it is county cricket or domestic matches. There was no sporting event which was possible at this time, so one can’t point out a particular thing, whether it’s county or domestic matches. We also missed out on the Irani Cup, which did not happen. Saurashtra won the Ranji Trophy and we were supposed to play. One can’t think about what he has missed. We should only look forward to the days ahead and even for that one might have to wait, looking at the situation. It’s a wait-and-watch game and the best thing is to utilise the time and work on a few areas which I personally want to work on. This will allow me to get better at my game.
Once the game returns post the pandemic, there will be a lot of changes. As an international cricketer, how challenging will it be to adjust to the new normal?
For me, the most important thing is to play the game. I enjoy playing this game; I love this. When I started, I never thought that I would stay in a five-star hotel, or that I would need the best of facilities. I love playing the game no matter what kind of facilities I get. I have grown up playing in different kinds of conditions — staying at different hotels, various rooms — so all that does not matter. Playing the game is more important than where you stay or what kind of facilities are available to you. One has to be very flexible with that and I am very flexible about it.
But wouldn’t it be odd that international matches will be played without any spectators, and with the guidelines in place, the players can’t even hug or celebrate on the field?
You might find it a bit odd. The precautions are necessary for sure and there might be some changes in the game as well, in the way it happens. It is very difficult to predict at the moment because we have not seen any games after COVID. The first series, the West Indies-England Tests, has begun. Once we are done with that, we will get to know a little more. So yeah, the players might find it a bit odd, but at the end of the day, they are getting a chance to play the game, which is more important.
The sports lovers, whether they follow cricket or any other sports, once the cricketing action actually begins, they will also be able to watch the proceedings on television. Even if they are not allowed inside the stadiums, there will at least be some live games on TV — that’s also very important. I think slowly we will start something rather than not doing anything.
Things will eventually start, but at the same time, one has to be careful because you don’t want to be in a situation where you end up infecting others. I am not good enough to talk about it because there are authorities who will consider everything and take decisions. But yes, from the players’ perspective, whenever it happens, it will be good to start playing the game again. Even if it gets delayed, one can’t get too emotional about it. This is a situation where life is more important than any other activities.
There is no clarity on domestic cricket either. In times of uncertainty, what should the domestic cricketers do to stay motivated?
I would tell all the domestic cricketers that this is the best time where they can look at their life and also focus on some activities other than cricket. In this game, it is important to switch off and this is the best time to start some other activities which you like as a person. It could be a hobby to cook something or whatever it is. Many cricketers have different hobbies.
This is a good time to work on fitness. Soon there will be a time when all of us could actually start some fitness activities, so you have plenty of time to prepare before the actual game starts — whether it’s domestic cricket or international cricket. Utilise this time wisely and focus on the game. This is the perfect time to do so.
The lockdown was a welcome break for you. How did you spend your time? Did you take up any new hobbies?
I spent most of the time with my family. I have a young daughter, and she wants to play all day. I wanted to make sure I am around her. Apart from that, it was about working on the fitness issues whenever possible.
Usually you don’t get so much time with the family, so you try and utilise this time to be with them and do some household stuff. Especially for the guys who are constantly travelling, you get time to organise things at home.