As Rahul Dravid’s career was nearing its end, there was a sense of anxiety seeping in every cricket lover. From selectors to fans and cricket pundits to legends, everyone just had one concern – what would happen to the No.3 spot that Rahul Dravid would leave behind?
In the early ‘90s at the Railways ground in Rajkot, the answer to that question was being drafted. Arvind Pujara, a former Ranji Trophy player, began coaching his 8-year-old son, Cheteshwar. Despite struggling financially, Arvind left no stone unturned to ensure his son got the best coaching. Overwhelmed by his parents’ sacrifices, Cheteshwar gave his father the best Guru Dakshina any student could offer his teacher. He staked claim to the coveted No.3 batting spot in the Indian test side.
1. Front foot and back foot
In the late ‘90s and the early 2000s, there was talk of a young cricketer who just loved batting, for hours. With sound technique and a calm demeanour, Cheteshwar scored runs by leaps and bounds. Playing in the first-class circuit, Pujara had a rare record of scoring three triple centuries -- a couple for his Ranji Team Saurashtra and one for the India A side.
Cheteshwar Pujara had arrived and he was knocking hard on the door of the Indian cricket team’s Chief Selector. Cheteshwar finally made his debut in 2010, a home series against the Australians. A gritty 74 in the second innings was enough to send a message that he was a talent to be looked after.
It wasn’t all very rosy after that. Cheteshwar hadn’t cemented his place in the team yet and was often criticised for his slow scoring rate. Over the years, this proved to be his biggest strength: Cheteshwar’s weapon has been to tire the bowlers and counter-attack. That’s test match cricket for you, an art he has mastered.
2. The man behind the bat
Cheteshwar has been a thorough team player, a quiet gentleman who goes about his preparations before a tour while his teammates engage in the glory of IPL. That’s correct. He doesn’t have a lucrative IPL contract but that doesn’t mean he whiles way crucial time. He uses that time to play county cricket in England. When you think Cheteshwar is a complete test batsman and can relax, he finds ways to improve his game further.
Cheteshwar Pujara was the chief architect of India’s victory in the recently concluded Border-Gavaskar test series. Seventy-one years and 11 series later, India registered their first test series win. The highest run-getter in the series, Cheteshwar was rightly declared the man-of-the-series. This was a feat that would have made his father’s heart swell with pride.
The last eight months have established Cheteshwar as the cricketer that his father had envisioned. Now, the world has woken up to it too, categorising him as the brand ambassador of Test cricket. We are just glad that the legacy of the no. 3 spot in the Indian Test squad is in safe hands!