Things finally turned a corner at Nottingham as Cheteshwar Pujara came up with a fine 72 that spoke much about his character and doggedness.
Last time England came to India, Cheteshwar Pujara trained by batting against a rag-tag team of kids. A boy who sells pani-puris after sunset, another 12-year old kid who is obsessed with cricket, and a boy whose father sold his pharmacy to try to see if the son can make it big in cricket all bowled at Pujara just days before the first Test at Rajkot.
He piled up the runs that home series. This time around, he went to England early to turn out for Yorkshire but the runs never came and he was not picked for the first Test. Under pressure at Lord’s, he was run out once. Things finally turned a corner here at Nottingham as he came up with a fine 72 that spoke much about his character and doggedness. Some Indian fans might be surprised but his Yorkshire team-mates aren’t. Ben Coad is a young fast bowler for Yorkshire who says he isn’t least bit surprised that Pujara, “one of the nicest blokes I have ever met”, has effected a turnaround. “He might not have got the runs for us at Yorkshire but he worked so bloody hard. The hours he would put in nets was insane, actually. It all had to come to help him now, isn’t it?”
As the Yorkshire stint progressed and the run draught extended, Coad remembers Pujara trying to tinker with the way he would stand at the crease. A bit more upright and hands as close to the body. “Not that I was getting his wickets too many times in the nets before that, but I would say he did get better as the time went along.”
Both the slightly upright stance and the constant effort to keep his right tucked in, close to body as possible, worked for him on Monday.
Anderson swung out a few past the outside edge but he rarely pushed out at them. Now and then, the mental error would creep in and the bat would be hung out to dry but nothing stuck in the English hands. As the afternoon progressed, the confidence grew and a sense of assuredness came in to his game. Until Ben Stokes got one to kick up from back of length and that bounce surprised Pujara who stabbed at the ball in reflex.
The runs might not have come in his county stint but a football goal did and in Coad’s telling it seems it almost brought tears of joy in Pujara’s eyes. “He liked playing the football but he wasn’t particularly good at it to be honest.
But he would keep playing. Finally, one day he scored a goal and he looked so delighted I thought there could be some tears here! That probably was the funniest moment that I can think of. Just the joy from a man who seemed well composed most times.”
Some of the players couldn’t pronounce Pujara’s first name and started calling him Steve. “Yes, Steve. There wasn’t any nickname but Steve was what some of us called him in jest. Puj would also carefully select some real nice vegetarian restaurents and would take us there for dinners.”
For all the culinary and mentoring help, Pujara even found himself in a song made up by his team-mates. “It was a long road-trip at night time and Alex Lees was the one who started it first. It went to the tune of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Lees swapped yellow with Puj and the boys in the bus started to sing along.” The Puj submarine might have crawled down under in Yorkshire but has surfaced at the right time for India.