During the first edition of the Indian Premier League in 2008, Cheteshwar Pujara was sent home without being given an opportunity. While his style is more suited for the longer format, the fact that he wasn't even considered worthy enough for a game was cruel. Having seen him closely that season, I can vouch for his resolve to fit the T20 bill. Pujara desperately sought an opportunity to showcase his wares but not at the cost of his natural skill.
The fact that many of his team mates who weren't scoring half the runs he was in the Ranji Trophy were preferred over him must have hurt him. Pujara was clear on not making a radical shift in his batting to suit T20. It was only the opportunity that he craved for in the IPL.
Undoubtedly, Pujara must have found himself at crossroads then. While the more lucrative path was luring him to change his playing style, the other more arduous and less attractive path was asking him to take the toughest call of his young career without promising rich rewards. But for Pujara, a quintessential small town boy, that option didn't even exist, for his dream wasn't earning the IPL riches but the coveted India cap.
In fact, his thoughts on the subject were not only unambiguous but also inspiring. His needs were pretty basic, he'd said, and hence didn't need too much to fill his pockets. If ever he made pots of money, he'd use it for charity, he'd shared. That was Cheteshwar, barely out of his teens then, an antithesis of his times, and reminiscent of the true spirit a sportsman must always have. While his skills with the bat had been admirable, his philanthropic ambitions displayed a different side of his personality. It was nice to know money wasn't going to deter him from his path to realise his dream of playing for India. Pujara's game is a throwback to the cricket played a few decades ago. He has mastered the art of batting time. While he's been brought up on flat decks in Saurashtra, he's worked very hard on his game to acquire a watertight technique. The fact that he focused on just one format and kept working on his game to ensure he succeeded in mounting big runs, developed the requisite temperament. To watch him succeed is a purist's delight.
His Test success isn't a personal triumph alone, for it must work as an inspiration for his generation to take up Tests.
The writer is a former opener for India.