There are certain old school, endearing characteristics in Cheteshwar Pujara’s personality that make him an oddity in a world dominated by flamboyant cricketers who flaunt their stardom as if they were creatures from a different planet. He wears an expression that could even suggest that "since I happen to be here, please accept me".
His demeanor is not that of someone so cocksure and smug that he considers the world a stage created especially for him to showcase his god-gifted talent. He seems to know, as if instinctively, that there is a limit to a sportsman’s reach and it would be futile, even blasphemous, to challenge those boundaries. He is an unlikely figure to have gate-crashed into a world which lays greater premium these days on a slam, bang and grab mentality than on solid technique that allows a batsman to build an innings of enduring quality.
In this fast-mode cricket culture, Pujara possesses virtues many would consider too old-fashioned to be worthy of a stardom that could launch a thousand products. And that could be a mistake, a miscalculation, which those who control the cricket market and all its agents could rue some day. For, this 24-year-old dreamer from Rajkot does seem to possess all those basic strengths that a batsman needs to flirt with technique (danger) and succeed, when the right moment arrives.
He is moulded in steel, and like most Indians, is fulfilling a dream which his father, Arvind, a clerk with the Railways and a former Ranji Trophy player, saw while his son was still a toddler. Arvind, despite the economic limitations his vocation placed on him and his own rebellious nature where he was fighting the cricketing establishment of Saurashtra, invested his money and time in honing his son’s technique.
The immense hard work that has gone into Pujara playing straight and correct with ease today, has its roots in his father’s imaginative method of weaning away a child from his natural instinct of playing across the line. When Cheteshwar was barely old enough to hold a plastic bat, his father would throw the ball all along the ground, inviting his son to connect the ball, which he could do only if he hit in a straight arc. There are many hours and hours, days and days, months and months and years and years of such training which Arvind imparted, and his son imbibed, that has finally led to Cheteshwar today showing promise to be that one more perfect Test batsman, an improbability given the times we live in.
For all those who fear the demise of Test cricket, especially in India, this is a moment, even if it turns out to be a temporary one, to celebrate and not be apprehensive of what the future holds. Pujara could well be that perfect blend which could assimilate in him the old and the new, and fashion a world which we may not find too distasteful.