The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.
Vinay Yadav, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur
There won’t be many people around. There won’t be a big TV audience. But Cheteshwar Pujara won’t mind. It is familiar terrain. The Ranji trophy final, starting today in Pune, offers Pujara and his teammates from Saurashtra a unique opportunity. They have won India’s premier domestic competition twice before — as Nawanagar in 1936-37 and as Western India in 1944-45.
It has been a while….
So Pujara will arrive, quietly determined to contribute in the making of history for his region. He will have prepared diligently. He will know conquering the men from Mumbai, champions 40 times over, will demand gumption, skill and intensity.
Cheteshwar Pujara won’t mind. It is familiar terrain. Like in the semi-final against the season’s surprise package, Assam, when he did, well, what he does. He batted in excess of six hours for 126. It was his first century of an unusually quiet season in which he averages less than 40. He helped construct a 119-run first-innings lead. He was the only centurion in the match. His friend Jaydev Unadkat followed up with a five-wicket burst in Assam’s second innings and Saurashtra were the final for the first time since 2012-13.
Mumbai were their opponents in that one too. Pujara couldn’t play as he was away on national duty. In his absence, Saurashtra were shot out for 148 & 82 and were thrashed by an innings and 125 runs inside three days at the Wankhede stadium. The chance to bandage the hurt is here and Saurashtra have their most reliable weapon to call upon.
To watch Pujara go about his business is to be transported to another time. He is only 28, but there is a wizened, almost Zen-like air to him. Pujara is un-tattooed, un-foulmouthed, unspectacular and easily un-noticed. He speaks in a staccato, considered tone. He doesn’t do commercials or controversies. And when he bats, he leaves ball after ball alone, he takes fresh guard on reaching a hundred, a double hundred, and, hell, even a triple hundred.
Actually, he likes, more than anything else, just to bat.
And now, he is also typecast — long format, Test match batsman. Perhaps, fairly so. Though his List A (domestic 50-over cricket) average is 54, Pujara has featured in only 5 ODIs for India. Only a minor miracle will see him add too many to that tally by the time his playing days end.
In T20 cricket, he is easily ignored. Though Pujara has found home at three franchises over the years in the IPL, each stay has been unsettled. To no one’s surprise, despite the presence of a new team from Gujarat, he went unsold again at this year’s player auction. A similar snub last year opened up a door to play county cricket for Yorkshire. He featured in four matches, scored 264 runs in six innings at an average of 52.80 with one century and a fifty. Perhaps another stint beckons over the English summer.
So the next few days in Pune hold the prospect of watching an endearing misfit in the modern game’s ecosystem. Cheteshwar Pujara will front up, knuckle down, smile shyly if sledged and just bat as long as he possibly can. He is in familiar terrain.