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Cheteshwar Pujara – The Monk in the face of a Sword

It was a breezy sunny Sunday morning at the spiritual home of cricket when India ticked off England’s slender lead of 27, which didn’t look slender enough when India lost the precious wickets of their two in-form batsmen when wiping it off.


India was effectively 0-2 when Virat Kohli joined Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease. You would imagine a certain template with which both play naturally will be on display and that is exactly what happened with Kohli pouncing on half-volleys and rotating strike at the possible opportunities while Pujara would get himself in first. But this isn’t the Pujara of 2018 we know who would unleash later once set; this was a man who was outright short of runs so much that the coveted No. 3 spot that he made his own was at stake.


 


They say it is an even tougher mental battle when you are short of runs, the barrage of thoughts that creep into you between facing deliveries and the absolute disastrous thought of ‘what if I nick the next ball or get trapped LBW?’ But this is a man who is known for the mental fortitude he possesses and the plethora of experience he carries at the highest level.


To put it in context, this is Pujara’s third England tour. He has scored one century. He has struggled in England because of obvious technical deficiencies that lead to his dismissals often. But rarely has he been in situations like the one he was in on Sunday at Lord’s. He finally got off the mark on the 35th ball only to be wryly applauded by the crowd, but the character we know Pujara is, he wore a smile on his face as he tapped gloves with his captain. Moment over and back to the grind.


To exacerbate India’s situation, Kohli nicked a ball Sam Curran that was on the sixth stump in a way that perplexed the pundits. Imagine a person woefully out of runs at the non-striker’s end looking at a dismissal which he dreads, and that too by the team’s best batsman.


Pujara was then joined by the most assured batsman in any crisis for India: Ajinkya Rahane. Now Rahane most often than not has always walked out in dire situations where his foremost responsibility is to stabilize the team’s position, but he is the next person after Pujara who is in desperate need of runs as well. So there was added responsibility of getting to a safe shore first and also get runs in the process.


 


And they played ball after ball, over after over with their trusted technical judgment. There were a couple of half-volleys from Curran to Pujara, who in his prime form would have driven them away for fours. Instead at Lord’s, he patted them straight to fielders which displayed the frame of mind he was in with an obvious lack of confidence. When you are a gritty character, life tests you out more often than others and at such times the little moments won seem like a battlefield conquered, and in Pujara’s case, it was sneaking a single between fielders that were set to exploit his weakness.


 Pujara and Rahane added 48 runs in the session after lunch. These are the moments that do not appear on the match highlights which comprise flashy drives and milestone acknowledgments. Test matches are won by acing these moments that require grit and peak concentration which pundits often refer to as ”tricky passages of play”.


 


A close to such instance that comes to mind is in the third innings of the second test match between India and Australia in Bangalore in 2017 where these two men bailed India out of another grim situation where again the limelight was stolen by the superstars but if you ask them even they would acknowledge the enormity of the contribution by the men who kept walking when going out tough. And the unfairness gets amplified even after doing the hard fields; Pujara then and even now gets a brute of a delivery to glove it to gully; such is the anatomy of life.


 But for Pujara, the vital contribution was only counted when another batsman of a different approach and flair played an unbelievable and match-winning inning at the other end only to meet the target. But Pujara comes out to bat at a time when the most flamboyant of the batsmen or the most gifted ones dread to come in as in such situations you do not need moments of brilliance but to toil the bowlers only to allow the flamboyant ones to look brilliant when bowlers are down with energy.


Pujara is a curiosity to the younger generation. In this fast-paced age where minutes seem like hours, he bats for hours to make scores that can be scored in minutes by the T20 generation. But the impact which he creates while batting for those hours can only be known by the batters that cash in on the position that Pujara has given them the luxury to be in.


 


Image Credit: FirstPost


 


 


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