NEW DELHI: Exactly a year ago, Cheteshwar Pujara’s chances of making it to his 100th Test seemed to have diminished drastically when the selectors decided to leave him out for the home series against Sri Lanka. He was at 95 Tests then. On Thursday morning, the eve of the second Test against Australia at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, Pujara turned up with a beaming smile after a light optional nets session. The pride of representing India in a Test match for the 100th time was unmistakable.
Pujara understands he isn’t the quintessential hitman like most modern-day batters. He is, instead, the calm in the chaos. “I am the same Cheteshwar as a person. If you speak to people who know me, I am the same person and I don’t think you need to change if you are a good human being,” he proudly said.
Being dropped last year surely shook things up for Pujara. At 34, the wiggle room was very little. He decided to skip IPL auctions, no doubt because he has gone unsold for most of the last six-seven auctions. The deal to play with Sussex in the English county championship came his way. But he needed a clear plan before that stint began.
“I had already spoken to Rahul (Dravid) bhai and Vicky (Vikram Rathore) p aaji. Although I was left out of the team, I had clear communication aboutcertain things which I had to work on,” Pujara said. The specific work was mostly about opening up more scoring options in his batting. His strike rate and habit of getting stuck drew much criticism. “I know how I got success in the first 5-7 years of my career. The most important part is you need to be mentally strong, believe in yourself and I backed that throughout my career,” he said with a smile while referring to R Ashwin‘s recent comment on his stubbornness.
The perception grew that Pujara couldn’t take the opposition on as the runs dried up. His Test average started plummeting like the air pressure of a leaking tyre. “You can’t change your entire game because there are players who are also playing the white-ball game and their style of play was different, I understand that,” he said.
Being just a Test specialist didn’t help. “It’s challenge. A Test specialist must keep challenging himself and play domestic cricket while looking forward to international games,” he said.
A special landmark 👌A special cricketer 👍A special hundred 💯Congratulations to @cheteshwar1 as he plays his… https://t.co/SsFxOotCMc
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1676605351000
The stubbornness, however, doesn’t reflect in his preparation to resurrect his career last year. Having an open mind became the operative part in his game.
“I have added a few shots to my game in last couple of years and am continuing to grow as a cricketer,” he said. Then he went on to describe how he turned his game around.
Ironically, it came down to playing the shorter formats for Sussex. “Playing white-ball cricket for Saurashtra and Sussex really helped. I tried playing sweep shots against fast bowlers and paddle scoop as well. I want to implement these in Test cricket too. It made me a little more open-minded and flexible to changes,” he said.
Pujara has suffered enough bruises — both on the field and from critics. He has weathered it well. Pujara has done well at 35 to revive his career and become the 13th Indian cricketer to play 100 Tests. He has cracked the code.