As the Royal Challengers Bangalore gear up for the main draw of the Champions League T20, their young star Cheteshwar Pujara is on the sidelines, fighting a battle he has fought before.
RCB take on South African side Warriors in the opener here on Friday. Like his teammates, Pujara too is in the city, but his days are spent at the National Cricket Academy undergoing rehab following a serious knee injury.The 23-year-old's disappointment at missing the tournament is understandable, but one cannot but wonder if it is a blessing in disguise. The shortest format has not been kind to the middle-order batsman, who is expected to play a big role in Tests in future.
In three seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL) with two different franchises, Pujara has torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of both his knees - the left playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders in a practice match ahead of IPL 2 in South Africa in 2009 (he had ACL reconstruction surgery there) and the right playing for RCB in IPL 4 earlier this year.
“You can try and be as fit as you can, but once you've torn it, you have to accept it and move on,” Pujara says.
He had the second ACL reconstruction surgery in London on July 1 under Dr Andrew Williams, who specialises in knee reconstruction and sports surgeries. “From London I came straight to NCA and since then I have been coming here regularly to ensure I follow correct rehab plan,” says the Saurashtra batsman.
Pujara says he is still “a month and a half away from regaining full fitness”. That rules him out of India's limited-overs home series against England in October and also the Tests and ODIs against the West Indies which follow because there will no time to test his fitness in first-class cricket. Following the recent humiliation in England, India are keen to rebuild. Pujara made a match-winning second-innings fifty on Test debut, against Australia last year. He struggled in South Africa, but tons of runs in domestic cricket prove his class.
But will Pujara ever be fit for Test cricket? The Royal Challengers' South African physio Evan Speechly thinks he can. “Pujara's torn his ACL twice, so obviously he has a weakness there, but there's nothing you can do to prevent such injuries,” Speechly said.
“We are now focusing on his muscles above and below the knee. He is dedicated, so if he continues to work on it, I am sure we can get him back to 100% fitness.”
Indian cricket fans will hope so too.