The perfect sheet anchor

Cheteshwar Pujara received the Chairman’s Choice Award at the Sportstar Aces Awards supported by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, in association with MRF.

Cheteshwar Pujara attributes his success to the hours that he has put in the nets.   -  AFP

At the start of the last calendar year, Cheteshwar Pujara was under the scanner. With India set to play three overseas Test series in different conditions, he was either going to be the difference between the opposite teams or could well struggle to hold on to his place in the side thereafter. After a mediocre run in South Africa — tallying 100 runs from six innings — he was one of the scapegoats of yet another so-near-yet-so-far story. No wonder he didn’t feature in the starting line-up for the first Test in England midway through the year. But ever since he turned the tide around with an unbeaten 132 in Southampton, Pujara has proven his worth to the aggressive Indian batting line-up time and again.

The perfect sheet anchor was at his brilliant best in Australia, blunting the Aussie bowlers and leading India’s maiden Test series win Down Under. As much as his 521 runs, including three hundreds, it was the 1,200-plus balls that he faced that eventually made the whole world acknowledge the worth of Pujara in an otherwise age of aggressive — reckless, at times — batting.

Australia head coach Justin Langer had no qualms in stating that Pujara is the best watcher of the ball he has seen, better than the legendary Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. But the modest man that he is, Pujara attributes it to the hours that he has put in the nets ever since wearing the pads on his father’s insistence as an eight-year-old in a Railway Colony ground in Rajkot.

“I’ve worked really hard at my net session and I have practised for hours and hours. Once you spend enough time in the nets, you start watching the ball like a football. I am sure all the cricketers are aware about it: the amount of hard work that you need to put in the nets always gives you rewards in the game,” Pujara said after accepting the Chairman’s Choice Award at the Sportstar Aces Awards supported by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, in association with MRF.

With his consistent and unflinching performance in Australia, Pujara, indeed, has given another dimension to showing “intent” — an oversued term in the current India change room.