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The strange life of India’s Test No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara

It is day 5 of the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The climate on the Sydney Cricket Ground is good and brilliant. It is 2 days since Cheteshwar Pujara scored his slowest-ever half-century – off 176 balls – and his strike price of 28.41 drew criticism from commentators, pundits and followers alike. Pujara is on the crease once more.

The feeling is that Indian cricket by no means actually accepts Pujara for who he’s and as an alternative expects him to be one thing greater than only a batsman who scores truckloads of runs. If he had been another cricketer, the narrative may need been that of a man who battled incessant sledging and menacing bowling to attain 100, and celebrated with over-the-top leaping as followers screamed their lungs out.

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Yet, within the creativeness of a cricket-crazy nation, Pujara jostles to slot in with the definition of a hero.

With India 309 runs adrift of the goal in Sydney, Pujara has to decide on between stonewalling and batting with intent towards an assault that has focused his off-stump line with the nagging persistence of a child in a sweet retailer.

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It’s a heat March morning in 2019 and Pujara appears comfy, reclining in a snug chair in his dwelling in Rajkot. Just a few months earlier than, he had orchestrated India’s maiden Test collection win in Australia with knocks characterised by abstinence and self-denial. His historic efficiency Down Under, the place he scored 521 runs off 1,258 deliveries, reminded him to be what he’s as an alternative of what he isn’t. “That will help you excel,” he says.

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All the whereas, Arvind Pujara, Cheteshwar’s father and first coach, is seated subsequent to him. As the son responds to a query about whether or not the strike-rate debate impacts him, the daddy interjects. “Cheteshwar has earned accolades as a batsman; now I want him to play for his fans,” Arvind says with quiet delight in his voice. “There aren’t many people in this world who can give joy to millions just by brandishing the willow. If you are bestowed with such gifts, then you might as well use it to give back to the people who root for you every time you walk out to bat.”

Arvind pats his son on the again and so they look at one another. There is a lingering pause, a barely awkward one. Cheteshwar has a stoic look on his face. He smiles and continues: “Nothing is permanent in cricket. Opinions change with each passing performance.”

***

Over on the Sydney Cricket Ground, India has misplaced skipper Ajinkya Rahane early on the ultimate day. Rishabh Pant has been promoted to No. 5 to counterattack, and the southpaw doesn’t disappoint with a scintillating knock of 97. Along the way in which, Pujara raises his second fifty of the sport – off 170 balls this time.

Watching Pujara and Pant bat collectively is an interesting: the previous is criticised for being too defensive and the latter attracts flak for enjoying one attacking shot too many. But India’s hopes hinge on this partnership. Pant finally falls three quick of 100, having struck 12 fours and three sixes throughout his 118-ball knock. At the opposite finish, Pujara is batting on 58 off 181, with India nonetheless 157 runs quick of the goal with six wickets in hand.

Does Pujara dig in and get by way of tea, or does he begin enjoying extra pictures?

Pujara scores 19 runs off the subsequent 24 balls he faces, hitting 4 fours, together with three in a single over of Pat Cummins, a bowler who had eliminated him 4 occasions within the collection for simply 19 runs off 129 deliveries! Intent? Tick.

“If I am putting my wicket at risk and the team is not going to benefit from it, then it is not worth it,” he had mentioned with a agency voice in Rajkot two years prior. Back within the current day, he’s getting a transfer on in Sydney.

Four overs later, Pujara appears to be like to defend a size supply from Josh Hazlewood on center stump, however the ball flies off the skin edge previous Steve Smith at second slip for 4. Twelve balls later, Hazlewood cleans Pujara up.

Pujara departs for 77 off 205 balls with India needing 135 to win. Is that the sport? Did he throw away his wicket? Did he undergo a lapse in focus? Was it an unplayable ball? The dismissal prompts debate on social media. Same previous, standard.

Meanwhile, India goes on to attract the Test match using on Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari’s miraculous sixth-wicket partnership. “If I was fit, if I was not injured, and Puji [Cheteshwar Pujara] was there for some more time, we would have had a different result maybe,” Vihari would say after the sport.

Maybe they’d have. Maybe they wouldn’t. But at Sydney, any touch upon or criticism of Pujara’s intent was in the long run drowned out by the loudest refrain of reward for India’s longest fourth innings in 40 years, which saved the group alive within the Border-Gavaskar collection.

The followers celebrated the draw like a win. There had been smiles and congratulations throughout. Seven thousand kilometres away in Rajkot, a stunning smile might have lit up Arvind Pujara’s face. After all, his son’s innings had introduced pleasure to the followers.

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