Cheteshwar Pujara doesn’t use a sword, but he does use a bat that cuts deep into the opposition’s bowling unit. Pujara isn’t someone who would appear intimidating to the opposition by his mere looks and aggression. However, he is someone whose grit and patience could exhaust the opposition mentally.
The 29-year-old isn’t someone who can thrash the opposition bowling as and when he wants. But, he is someone who knows when to kill the opposition softly with a swift and accurate movement of the blade. In many ways, he is like a Samurai for the Indian team whose monk like temperament and rock solid determination sets him apart from the rest of the batsmen.
Come 3 August, Pujara will be playing his 50th Test for India and will also have the chance to complete 4,000 Test runs.
Having been able to play 50 Tests for your country is a proof of your consistency as a player. In many ways it is special as it is the first major milestone in a Test cricketer’s career. However, Pujara being his usual self, is never too excited with milestones. He likes to take one Test at a time with an aim to win it for his country.
There have been ups and downs, but I am looking forward to playing the 50th Test. I shouldn’t be too emotional about it. I will take it as another Test and would like to win the Test.
The key to Pujara’s success is that he doesn’t get overwhelmed with small achievements. A little grin on his face and a small raise of the bat is all you can see when he scores a century or even a double century.
His disciplined approach and controlled attitude towards the game is something that was harnessed since his childhood. And the credit for that goes to his father, Arvind Pujara, who once represented Saurashtra in first-class cricket.
He was very strict, especially in my early days. I was not allowed to go anywhere or celebrate any festivals like kite festival or Diwali because he thought that I might get hurt and that would not allow me to practice the following day. I had restrictions, but it helped me focus on my game. Now we have come to terms where he is a bit liberal about what I do. He understands that there are times when cricketers need to relax a bit. We have a great rapport even now.
Cheteshwar Pujara told Bcci.tv in November 2016.
The 29-year old had also revealed how his father didn’t let him feel the absence of his mother after she passed away when Pujara was a 17-year-old kid. Arvind Pujara didn’t break down and kept his full focus on his son’s training and necessities as he was about to play a U-19 match for India in a few days.
That phase taught him to be focused at work despite the emotional turmoil going on in his personal life. And he owes all his success to his father.
I owe my success to my dad. Not just as a coach, even as father he has been great. I lost my mother when I was 17, and he had to play both mom and dad to me. That phase wasn’t easy for him and myself, but he was mentally strong and never kept his focus out of my game. We kept working on it and he has been instrumental in my success with regards to cricket and life.
Pujara now has 3,966 runs to his name in 49 Tests at a mammoth average of 52.18. Not only that, those runs include 12 centuries and 15 half-centuries as well. The only thing one can complain about is his strike rate which stands at a sluggish 48.17.
However, that is what sets him apart from others. His steely batting approach resembles a knight protecting a castle. Often it has been this approach that has rescued India from crisis and put them on top of the opposition.
Pujara had also encountered an early setback in his career. He injured his knee severely in 2011 after making a promising debut against Australia in the previous year. However, he worked on his fitness and made a strong comeback in the series against New Zealand in 2012. His innings of 159 against the Kiwis was an absolute treat to watch. And now he is at the pinnacle of success and reaping the rewards of his hard work.
Getting injured was the most challenging time of my career. I was out for six months due to a knee injury and then again in 2011, when I was out for another six months. Overall, I wasn’t able to play for a year, which was really tough on me. When you get injured, you need to get that rhythm going for you again as your concentration goes down. Injury was the toughest part of my career but now I have come out of it and I am working hard on my fitness.
Pujara had great six months after his comeback in the series against New Zealand. He struck two double tons, one against Australia and one against England, in a span of just four months and pushed his team to victory on both occasions.
He also emerged as the second fastest Indian to score 1,000 Test runs in the course of his scintillating double ton against the Aussies in March 2013. He achieved it in 18 innings and was only behind Vinod Kambli who achieved the feat in 14 innings.
After he was left out for four Test matches in 2015, he came back with a bang with an innings of 145* against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 2015. And then he didn’t look back.
His knocks of 87 against New Zealand at Kolkata in 2016 and 92 against Australia at Bengaluru in 2017 once again turned out to be instances of his grit and determination.
He was the lone warrior with the bat in both the matches and it was his innings both the times that made the difference for India.
However, his moment of fame came in the Test match against Australia at Ranchi in March 2017. He set the record for the most deliveries faced by an Indian in a Test innings when he faced 525 balls for his 202. That innings helped India to draw the match on which the Aussies had established their authority with a high first innings total.
From the tag of being the successor to Rahul Dravid, Pujara has gone on to establish his own authority and creating his own identity over the years. He is now gearing up for another battle.
Pujara is again ready to decimate the bowlers silently and kill the opposition softly. People might tag him as ‘The Next Wall’ or the next Rahul Dravid of Indian Cricket. However, in my opinion, he has established his authority as the Silent Samurai of Indian cricket.
(This article was first published in The Quint on August 2, 2017)