Cheteshwar Pujara is a “silent warrior”, said Sachin Tendulkar. He piles up mountains of runs, grinds down bowlers, all with impassive, Zen-like concentration. What differentiates him from some of the other batsmen in the Indian line-up is the way he goes about making big runs. Methodical, steely, expressionless. Not for him are the big, over-the-top celebrations. At best, he will allow himself a raise of the bat and a slight smile. And then the monk returns again.
Where does this impassiveness arrive from? Where else, but from the person who made him the cricketer he is, his father Arvind Pujara.
The 29-year-old from Rajkot had his greatest series against Australia where he broke one record after another. His monumental epic in Ranchi, where he played 525 balls for his 202 and played India’s longest Test innings, deflated Australia. But when he got back home to the team hotel, he received one simple message from his father:
A father’s dream
These two simple words epitomised not just the relationship shared by father and son but also provided an understanding into Pujara the player and how he has been moulded. Right since he was a child, his father has moulded him into his gritty, tough giant who doesn’t fall prey to emotional outbursts but only focuses on the job in hand.
As he approaches a landmark 50th Test, the Saurashtra batsman reflected on how his father had mellowed over the years: “At times, he has been very critical but now we have come to an understanding, where we always speak and we come to a conclusion. And he is not very strict anymore.”
But Arvind Pujara, a former first-class player, was not just methodical, he was obsessed with making sure his son would become a Test cricketer and left no stones unturned to make that happen. When his son was only five, he took him down to Karsan Ghavri to understand if his son had the talent and when he got the confidence, thus started a long and tiring journey.
“I trained him on cement wickets,” he had said, per a Times of India report, in April. “Back then, a few people felt that it wasn’t right. However, I was convinced that batting on cement wickets has helped him develop concentration. On turf wickets, which aren’t well maintained, you can and have to avoid some of the deliveries which can jump awkwardly. But on cement tracks, you’ve got to play at all the balls thrown at you. It helped Chintu play straight, and go near the ball while batting, which is sometimes not possible on turf wickets”.
Creating a great
Arvind and Cheteshwar’s journey took years of struggle. As junior Pujara has mentioned, his father was a strict coach, never afraid to scold him when required. There were long hours in the nets, trips to Mumbai. But the two also fought off personal tragedy – Cheteshwar lost his mother to cancer just few days before an Under-19 match.
“[My father] had to play the role of my mother as well,” Pujara had said in 2015. “We were the only two members in the family. He used to work in the railways at the time. He would get up early, do the necessary work in the kitchen, including preparing tea and breakfast, and ensure that I did not get late for school. He would also attend to his office work and take care of his wards, including me, at his coaching camp in the morning and evening.”
Even at an emotional moment when Cheteshwar scored a century in Rajkot against England in 2016 in front of his adoring family, his father hardly showed signs of emotion. “I am happier because it was a match-saving innings by my son and Murali Vijay,” he had said. And then, back to his usual meticulous coaching self, “In a Test match, one has to plan according to the situation and that is just what they did.”
In a sense, the 29-year-old’s upcoming 50th Test in Colombo will not just be an individual mark, it will be a moment of belief, of pride for the entire Pujara family. It is a landmark of not just his batting determination but also a validation of the hours and hours of training and coaching his father had conducted. Today, Cheteshwar Pujara is the Mr Dependable. But like all greats, his genesis lies within a man who detected and tirelessly moulded a talent where no one else did.