Cheteshwar Pujara: Slave to India's success
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” - A.A. Milne
Fantastical; a better word could not have been crafted to describe Cheteshwar Pujara’s exploits as a cricketer (unless ‘Husseyesque’ was added to the dictionary last night). One look at his records will tell you that hitting the brakes is an art Pujara was never taught. His fifties are invariably converted to hundreds, which are compounded further.
Prolific is another one that comes to mind. But it feels almost erroneous to equate him to numerous prolific accumulators – domestic bullies – at the first-class level. No, Pujara sped past the town of ‘moderately consistent’ several miles ago. That is down to his irrevocably strong temperament.
The number of times, in interviews, that he has been asked how it feels to be on the sidelines over the last few seasons is ever-creeping towards his batting average itself. When he was first asked the question, the answer was quite simple. The veterans were still at the helm: The Emperor, the Poet and the Warrior, under the leadership of the dynamic new captain.
Pujara was happy to acknowledge the truth and watch from the sidelines. And although he grabbed his first opportunity nicely when promoted above Rahul Dravid, it was a nervous follow up series in South Africa. Again, he found himself outside.
When the guard DID change, for the most part of it, he saw his contemporaries being drafted into Test cricket on the basis of their success in the shorter forms. The answer had to change. But there was no bitterness. Challenging himself and proving his credibility to his own conscience, he said, was the most important thing.
And in the months that followed his initial taste of international cricket, he did exactly that. He continued piling on the runs in the manner he knew and the only barrier between him and some of the sturdiest domestic records was that his team in Saurashtra didn’t possess a regular knockout-stage ticket.
And so, Pujara left the management little room to overlook him. With the tough half of his job completed, he then continued to live by his USP. It has been ten Test matches against three oppositions since then, and Pujara has already scored two double hundreds out of four centuries.
In between, he ruined Stuart Binny’s plans of restricting Saurashtra for 150 in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final encounter against Karnataka by scoring double the number on his own; he was rewarded the very next day with a call-up to the one-day squad for the home series against England. Unfortunately, the only thing that came out of it was a fresh batch of interviews.
Seven months later, Pujara is yet to make his debut in the blue jersey. The situation isn’t too different from his days on the sidelines of the Test team, however.
For one, MS Dhoni remains unchallenged as a captain. Under him is India’s greatest ODI team of all time and, needless to say, a team that needs little change. As holders of both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy title, Dhoni’s squad has its own established personnel and agenda. It is a remarkable side, even in the absence of players of the calibre of Yuvraj Singh, the flamboyance of Virender Sehwag and the steel of Gautam Gambhir.