Cheteshwar Pujara raises his bat after scoring 150 runs during the second day of the first Test match between India and New Zealand at the Rajiv Gandhi International cricket stadium in Hyderabad. AFP/Noah Seelam
It’s difficult to capture in words the emotions the Pujaras were going through on Thursday and Friday. For them, the innings of 159 by Cheteshwar was not just about cementing his place in the India team; it was the culmination of a dream that the batsman and his father and coach, Arvind, have lived for nearly 20 years.
No matter what happens in future, even if Cheteshwar goes on to become one of the greats in the game, its unlikely they will experience the kind of high they did when he reached the three-figure mark at Hyderabad against New Zealand.
For father and son, the maiden hundred will be the finest moment of their lives, having come after the kind of traumatic experiences that would have broken the will of any other family. “Yesterday, there was so much happiness in our house… if Cheteshwar’s mother would have been alive, my house would have truly felt like heaven,” said an emotional Arvind from Rajkot, remembering his wife who passed away in 2005.
“Till Wednesday, everything which can go wrong was happening to our lives,” said Arvind. “In 2005, when Cheteshwar was 18, his mother passed away within three months of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“In 2009, when Cheteshwar was on the brink of breaking into the India team, he suffered a career-threatening knee injury and was out of the game for more than six months. He returned to play three Tests, but as he was on the way to cementing his place in the side, he suffered another serious knee injury in 2011,” recalled Arvind.
Both the injuries were the same — tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) (the first one on the left knee and second on the right) — and happened while playing in the Indian Premier League, and needed surgeries to reconstruct.
“It was a terrible blow as he missed two big series because of it, England and Australia. Both times he missed six months each as for the first three months you are not allowed to do anything, after that you do rehab for three months but absolutely no cricket,” revealed Arvind, who played six first-class matches for Saurashtra as wicketkeeper batsman.
If dealing with personal pain was not enough for Cheteshwar, while undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore in August 2011, he got the news that his father had suffered a heart-attack. “Cheteshwar had to rush home as I underwent a bypass surgery. Our cup of woes was overflowing as I developed serious complications after the operation and another emergency procedure had to be performed,” recounted Arvind.
At the crease on Thursday and Friday, there was not a hint of emotion in Cheteshwar’s demeanour. He batted with such calmness one wondered where was the pressure of expectations, of making a comeback, or comparisons with greats like Rahul Dravid?
Watching on his TV at home, Arvind had the answer: “Jo jitna struggle karta hai, wo utna strong hota hai. (The more one struggles, the stronger he becomes). Coming from a small town with limited facilities and to win your place on merit… it’s not been an easy journey.”