On August 28 last year when Cheteshwar Pujara went in to bat in the third Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo, his international career was on the line. It had been 20 months since his last century for India. He was no longer an automatic choice in the playing XI.
The 145 not out at the Sinhalese Sports Club as an opener while carrying the bat not only helped India win the match and series, but more importantly it was a performance in which Pujara’s character shone through.
At that point, he was enduring such pressure for a cricketer to blow his fuse or go into a shell. But Pujara patiently waited for his time, allowing his bat to do the talking.
NO SMOOTH RIDE
From there, gradually things started to fall into place. There is a lesson in it for all.
As he readies to play an international game at his home for the first time, his career has completed a full circle. From the highs of the first 17 Tests to despair in the next 10 and then the slow climb back. His 39th Test will be a moment to cherish. He goes into the first Test in Rajkot feeling at the top of his game.
The Saurashtra batsman’s career can be divided into three stages. The strong run from October 2010 to December 2013, a forgettable 2014, and then the fightback from August last year which will culminate with the home debut.
The first home game though has come at the right time, feels Pujara’s father and coach, Arvind.
The self-effacing former Saurashtra Ranji player is careful of not getting carried away by the occasion. He is measured. “We can say that Cheteshwar is in good touch.”
BIDING ONE’S TIME
Except that he will have knowledge about the wicket, Arvind says his son won’t have any extra advantage than playing in Mumbai or Chennai. “The game is such that there is importance of very ball.”
Arvind is among those coaches whose thirst for cricketing knowledge is not easily satiated. Watching his son grit it out, the last two years have provided the biggest learning experience of his coaching career.
He calls them life’s lessons. “Cricket, lot of it is psychological. Your mental strength is the key.
“You need to have the balance in mind. Like in life, there will be ups and downs, the one with a balanced mind can come out of his tough phases,” says Arvind.
“You have to learn to wait for your time. That is possible only when you keep an open mind. This you learn from experience.”
KEEPING THE FAITH
Cheteshwar’s biggest strength has been his ability to keep the faith. “He has a balanced mind from his childhood. It is not my contribution as his coach; he has to thank his (late) mother for that. She is the one who taught him to keep the faith, in God, in his game and in his coach.”
He added: “You can teach skills, and confidence you can develop, but without faith nothing will work. Without it, doubts will creep in and with the slightest of doubt, there is a big problem.
“It’s because of his balance that he has scored so many runs.”
The Rajkot Test will be the first time his father will go to watch Pujara bat. “Some amount of nervousness is always there,” Arvind concedes. And any special wish? “I want him to perform well in front of the Saurashtra people.”