The purity in Cheteshwar Pujara's process
After the Indian team steamrolled Sri Lanka in the first Test match, the host broadcasters decided to take advantage of the time and handed microphones to Cheteshwar Pujara and Hardik Pandya for a mock interview.
Pujara posed questions, Hardik shot out answers, Pujara looked iffy, Hardik was effervescent, Pujara floundered around for space to wade back in, Hardik just wanted more of the limelight, Pujara had just played out his 49th Test match, Hardik had just made his debut.
One could have been forgiven if they splashed around to decipher which player was new to the game, such was the contrast between the two.
Pujara is not your quintessential 'modern day' youth. He does not sport flashy tattoos wriggling all over his skin, his shirt does not threaten to burst out of those quite normal, not anywhere close to ripped muscles, his face does not occupy too many billboards, heck, there are not even enough memes made about him.
Worthless for many, this is what defines Pujara's life, his method, and its purity.
He stays in his bubble and when he is dragged out of it (like the aforementioned interview), he sheepishly grins; this is not what he was meant to do, where is that damned bat, what is this innocuous piece of equipment handed over to him (the microphone)?
Before the first Test, when R Ashwin was about to play his 50th Test, there were quite a number of odes dedicated to India's 'ace' off-spinner and Ashwin being himself never did mind making few outlandish comments just to set the stage perfectly for himself.
'What is all this?' muttered Pujara as he quietly strolled out to bat after Shikhar Dhawan started off like a train and then pulled the chain; his dismissal seemed to be reckless, Pujara would have puked had he seen that stroke.
He took guard, and defended the first ball. Welcome the zone, you were missed, said Pujara, let's have another day of unparalleled bonhomie!
Rahul was gliding at the other end, and in an almost pristine manner, churned out one delectable stroke after another. Mere mortals would have seen their reflection on the barren SSC pitch and chastised themselves for just watching the serene stroke play at the other end. Pujara pranced forward for the other over and blocked out a maiden.
His serene batting was all about keeping the bowlers at bay, rubbing them into the ground, eroding all their worth.
That bubble was thickening, Herath did not how to pierce it in the first Test, Chandimal had no clue what it is all about...yet!
He was at peace, was Pujara, for is not peace all about retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.
Rahul was cruising along, Pujara was digging in; India rocked along and that bubble had all but set in.
42 balls faced, 14 runs scored. So boring man, he is sucking all the momentum out of the innings.
There is something enigmatic about KL Rahul, he can take your breath away one moment and then do something which will make you march up to him, shake him, slap him and just return without a whisper.
He patted one to short cover, took off for a run, saw Pujara yelping out 'no no', turned back, stranded!
Out walks Virat Kohli, yes, this is the swagger India loves, look at him taking guard, there is intent even in the way he pats the bat on the pitch.
What are you wondering now, Pujara, should you not look to do something about it?
And then, just when we were drooling over Kohli, he misreads a length, goes back to a fullish ball from Herath, looks to cut and Angelo Mathews takes an instinctive/freaky catch at first slip.
Kohli is disconsolate, Pujara just turned his back, allowing no one to see his expressions; perhaps the bubble was too thick to make out what he was thinking!
Ajinkya Rahane walks in, looks up towards the heavens and joins Pujara. Now Rahane needs runs, he got a half century in the first Test, but surely he was not satiated.
Pujara was now into his innings and as Rahane decided to play his strokes to get going, India's 'drab' No. 3 too flicked a switch. He was now defending with much more intent and also bunting the balls in the gaps to take singles.
Chandimal was no longer wondering, he was worried!
The next nine runs come from 41-80 balls, strike rate: 22.5.
Sri Lanka thought they could have tightened the screws after the dismissal of Kohli and could squeeze the runs and then hope for an inadvertent shot.
Pujara read their minds like a morning newspaper and decided to ruin their plans.
The next 42 runs in 39 balls; strike rate: 105.
Bang, no IPL contracts, no hashtags 'Che' and yet here he is milking the bowling with such ease, it was almost embarrassing!
Few people around me were surprised at this approach, clearly, they were content with the Indian Premier League being synonymous with cricket.
This has been Pujara's method; it was always there, pure and perfect.
He takes his time, gets into his zone and if you do not get him, he will run at you, stomp all over you and turn back to run over you again, because you are down and he earned it.
The man loves batting, but there is a tempo to his innings; the next 35 runs came in 43 balls, at a strike rate of 79.5.
Test century No. 13 was notched up in his 50th Test match, he simply took off his helmet, lofted his bat and smiled towards the dressing room.
Kohli was up clapping and that intent was there even when he clapped, not Pujara though, he put his helmet back on, coerced the bubble to descend and took fresh guard again.
End of the day's play. What a day at the office some would say, for Pujara, it was all about the process, it was all so very normal.
Unbeaten on 128 in 225 balls. Stoic, sturdy, resilient Test cricket.
Not a drop of sweat, let's roll on to day 2.
Yeah, it might be drab, but Pujara does not care!