With India scheduled to visit England for the one-off Test match in Edgbaston in July, Pujara has made a very strong statement for getting back the No. 3 position in the Indian Test team. Dropped after the South Africa tour, many had written Pujara off. To have the resilience to stage yet another comeback was considered a bridge too far.
For Pujara, the only option was to go back to the grind of first-class cricket and prove a point. He opted for county cricket. The experience of playing in England ahead of the Test match and some good form could yet again open the doors of the national team.
While all this sounds rather mundane and logical, the real story lies in the man’s resilience, determination and a belief that he still has it in him to deliver at the highest level. It has always been at the core of his story.
Sample this: After an Inter-district match at Saurashtra’s Bhavnagar in 2006, an 18-year-old Pujara boarded a Rajkot-bound bus in the afternoon and quickly called up his mother, Reena.
When he reached Rajkot in the evening, his father, Arvind, wasn’t there to pick him up. Those who went there to receive Cheteshwar broke the news of his mother’s demise to him. Reena was a breast cancer survivor and was well on her road to recovery. Sadly, she suffered a cardiac attack. It was difficult for Pujara to believe that the person he loved most was no more. He was devastated for a few days.
But then he won’t be Pujara if he would have allowed the tragedy to force him into a dark place. He didn’t shed a single tear and his father was bothered.
Four days later, he was in Mumbai for an U-19 game for Saurashtra. He scored a zero in that game but showed the courage to deal with the grief.
Pujara’s greatest strength is knowing his limitations. It’s an attribute that goes unrecognized. But it’s a vital part of a human being’s mental make-up: knowing what you can do and where you stand.
Pujara cannot be Rohit Sharma for he doesn’t have the Mumbaikar’s range of strokes. But when it comes to putting in line both mind and body, the man from Rajkot is second to none. If there is ever a choice between taking some blows on the body or getting out, like there was in Australia in January 2021, Pujara will always choose the former. He chose pain for he needed to be out there to help India either draw or win the game.
His critics might say that batters like
Kohli, Rohit or Rishabh Pant have a bigger range of shots. They are correct in saying so. For, Pujara depends primarily on three shots – the square cut, cover drive and on-drive. But for every Lionel Messi, one needs a Jordi Alba, for every Robert Lewandowski that Bayern Munich recruit, the balance is brought by a Joshua Kimmich. For India, Pujara brings that balance in England.
Against the moving ball under grey skies, you need a very different kind of resilience and discipline. Rohit exhibited that in plenty in 2021, which made him the most successful Indian batter on view in England. Coming straight out of the IPL, it will be difficult for Rohit or Kohli to straightaway get into the groove.
And with Edgbaston being a one-off, there is no second chance.
We already have the example of the World Test Championship in front of us. New Zealand were already there in England and with the experience of two Test matches under their belt managed to get past India. With a massive series win against England in prospect, India will need to be on the money from ball one and that’s what makes Pujara relevant. His sublime form has opened up options for the selectors and with someone like him back in rhythm, captain Rohit and coach Dravid will have a lot many more possibilities in front of them.
Former West Indies captain Clive
famously said, “Unless you are agreeable to play ugly, you will never be a great cricketer.”
That’s why Pujara. He is prepared to look ugly and show the resilience that India needs. Maybe for one final time.