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West Indies v India 2023

Cheteshwar Pujara helped India achieve what some thought impossible – there will never be another like him

Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped from the India Test squad ahead of the West Indies tour
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read

Cheteshwar Pujara might never play a Test again, but the manner of his departure shouldn’t dim his batting greatness, writes Aadya Sharma.

There will never be another Cheteshwar Pujara. It’s not just Pujara, the batter, who comes from a time gone by, the unyielding No.3 ready to wear down bowlers for hours on end. Pujara, the person, is a throwback to an age when less was more, simplicity was celebrated, spiritualism and divine energy was a big part of life, and you counted your blessings and steered clear of distractions.

Pujara is a Nokia 1100 in the age of the screen-folding smartphone: he performs his most essential role to perfection, dons that uncrackable hard exterior, forgoes the frills and knick-knacks, and can work tirelessly for days on end. It’s so dependable that you took it for granted when you had it. He’ll scoff at the analogy though: he barely uses a phone, smart or otherwise.


The best thing about Pujara is that he’s never broken character. Here’s a player who has withstood the T20 tempest, clinging on to his own method even as the attraction of adding some expansiveness grew. It did not matter if he was a 22-year-old, getting to bat at No.3 over Rahul Dravid in his debut Test, or a 35-year-old, batting in the same spot a hundred Tests later, Pujara remained Pujara.

The 72 against Australia, in the second innings of his debut Test in 2010, was evidence enough that Pujara was here to stay. It did not matter how stiffly bottom-handed he was, how restrictive his stance seemed, or how sluggardly he would approach an innings. Over a decade and a few more years, Pujara excelled in the battle of attrition, extrapolating his mantra of life into his idea of batsmanship, one blocked delivery at a time.

His biggest highlight will remain the 2018/19 series win in Australia. The magnitude and significance of the victory was immense, and Pujara’s contribution historic. By the time he had brought up his third century of the series, three more than what the entire Australia team managed, Pujara had become the most important name on the India team sheet. You could not envisage a Test team without him.

Two years later, Pujara was at it again in an even greater triumph. There were no imposing centuries, but he was still the man you would run to. Around him was a batting lineup first tattered by the 36-run Adelaide implosion, and then torn open by Virat Kohli’s departure. The younger heads needed a senior hand on them, and Pujara became that unflinching shield, absorbing the pressure and bombardment. He batted for 22 hours across eight innings, including 14 hits on the helmet. He faced 928 balls, or a fraction under two whole days’ play. The average and strike rate hovered either side of 30. By the end, Australia’s attack was blunted, broken, unable to rouse itself for one last riposte. Rishabh Pant provided the killing blow, but it was Pujara they couldn’t beat.

Pujara’s legacy still stands tall, weathered a little with time. Change inevitably beckons, the wheel turns; transition even pokes at the greats, and Pujara is indeed worthy of that adjective.

Times are changing. In India, a cricketer, as a whole, isn’t merely evaluated by their on-field prowess, but has added layers attached now. Social currency, marketability, on-screen presence are very real parameters of popularity. Pujara doesn’t register among all the razzmatazz. And that’s what makes him who he is: a genius gloriously out of step with the modern age.

“I try and avoid social media”, he recently said. “I live a very simple life and that’s the reason I don’t get distracted by too many things.” Mohammad Rizwan swears he hasn’t seen anyone with better concentration levels. Maybe it’s a little lesson for the sucked-by-screens generation.

Setbacks have forged Pujara into what he is. He endured the passing of his mother to cancer as a teenager. Just past 20, he went through the trauma of ACL reconstructions on both his knees. Not long after, his father – his lifelong coach – suffered a heart attack. But Pujara pulled through it all, never letting go of his dream, and giving it his absolute all. No wonder he’s batted longer than any Indian in a Test innings. Life has taught him how to be indefatigable.

Is it the end? It could be. There’s nothing left for Pujara to prove. Maybe the trophy cabinet could have some less free space, but his Test calibre is there for all to see. In terms of personal milestones, Pujara’s career is resplendent with knocks and records few have managed. It’s a wealthy reserve to sit on and enjoy, but it would be very unlike Pujara to step away from the game so easily. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t be complete without a few hundred blocked deliveries, countless hours of sweat on a soiled kit, maybe even a battering or two on the shoulder and chest. Call him tomorrow and he’ll be ready all padded up to play, just as he was in the nets a day after being dropped for the West Indies tour. Whose loss is it anyway?

The next time your smartphone runs out of juice, cast your mind back to all those years ago, when life was simpler, less was more, and those Nokia bricks were pretty damn good. Test cricket’s future could be ruled by Bazballers. Pujara was that grand old bridgeway to the past.

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