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The secrets of Cheteshwar Pujara's success

Last updated on: May 15, 2013 10:06 IST

The secrets of Cheteshwar Pujara's success

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Haresh Pandya

For one so young, Cheteshwar Pujara is extremely religious. He performs puja, meditates and lives a simple life despite being a celebrity.

Haresh Pandya, who has known the batsman since he was a child, reveals the role his family and spirituality have played in his achievements.

Ever since Rahul Dravid has called it a day after India's disastrous tour of Australia in 2011-2012 -- Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team lost all the four Tests -- observers wondered who would step into the master batsman's shoes. They have found the answer now: Cheteshwar Pujara.

Already spoken of highly for his classical technique, sound temperament and insatiable appetite for runs, Pujara -- who is affectionately called Chintu by family and friends alike -- hit four centuries, including two double hundreds, in India's next three Test series.

All the series were played at home, between August 2012 and March 2013. He scored 159, 9 and 48 against New Zealand, 206 not out, 41 not out, 135, 6, 16, 8 and 26 against England and 44, 8 not out, 204, 1, 28, 52 and 82 not out against Australia.

Chintu did not allow the pressure of being constantly compared with Dravid get the better of him, played his natural game and crafted an important innings when most needed.

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Image: Cheteshwar Pujara didn't let the comparisons with Rahul Dravid get the better of him
Photographs: Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

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'I've never tried to imitate any batsman, certainly not Dravid'

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It did not take connoisseurs of vintage batsmanship long to judge that Pujara was more elegant and stylish, if not more compact, than Dravid was.

Chintu is more aggressive and positive in his approach and has an ideal temperament to succeed in Test cricket.

"Dravid is a legend," says Chintu, "and I'm nowhere near him. His achievements speak for themselves. I have much to improve."

"I've never tried to imitate any batsman, certainly not Dravid. All I want to do is continue playing my natural game and serve India to the best of my ability."

Chintu has played only 13 Tests, but scored 1,180 runs at a staggering average of 65.55.

More than the runs, it is the manner in which he made them that has made the pundits shower Pujara with rich praise.

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Image: Cheteshwar Pujara aims to serve India to the best of his ability
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

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'His game is a judicious mix of defence and aggression'

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"The first thing that strikes you when you watch Pujara bat is his class," says former India cricketer Anshuman Gaekwad.

"It's hard to find fault with his footwork and technique. His game is a judicious mix of defence and aggression," adds Gaekwad.

"Like a true Test batsman, he knows the value of the waiting game. He is rock-like in his defence, but a treat to watch when he plays his shots, both off the back-foot and front-foot, in the on as well as off."

Having missed important tours of the West Indies, England and Australia in 2011 because of injury after making an impressive debut against Australia in October 2010, scoring an invaluable 72 off 89 balls and helping India chase 207 in the second Test in Bangalore, and leaving his mark in the subsequent series in South Africa, where he did not score many runs but looked world-class with his technique and temperament against Dale Steyn and other fast bowlers, Pujara hit a purple patch in the triple series at home.

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Image: Pujara is a treat to watch when he plays his shots, feels former India cricketer Anshuman Gaekwad
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

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Chintu Pujara began as a leg-spinner

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The English think-tank seemed to have ignored Pujara, despite his performance against New Zealand in the previous series, and spent all its collective intelligence on how to check and get rid of the more experienced Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar.

They were not prepared when Pujara exploded with a majestic double hundred in the first Test in Ahmedabad.

Born (January 25, 1988) and raised in Rajkot in Gujarat, Pujara's grandfather, father and uncle were all talented cricketers.

While grandpa Shivlal had a reputation for being a feared leg-spin bowler in the powerful team of the erstwhile princely state of Dhrangadhra, father Arvind and uncle Bipin both represented Saurashtra in India's national championship, the Ranji Trophy.

Chintu was more comfortable bowling leg-spin than batting when he started playing at the age of 8. It was quite a sight to see little Chintu practice for hours -- bowling leg-spin with a somewhat curious action and batting confidently -- under the watchful eye of his father, who has been his only coach, at the Railway ground in Rajkot.

To make sure where Chintu's talent lay, his father took him to Mumbai and made him bat and bowl in front of his friend, former India all-rounder Karsan Ghavri.

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Image: Pujara's grandfather, father and uncle were all talented cricketers
Photographs: Courtesy: Haresh Pandya

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'He wanted to bat on and on'

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A highly impressed Ghavri saw fire and passion in the gifted lad and told Arvind Pujara that his only child would go far as a cricketer.

Ghavri noticed that Chintu did not like to get out and advised Arvind to make him a specialist batsman.

Following Ghavri's advice, Chintu began working on his batting skills more vigorously. Whether batting in the nets or school matches, he would put a price on his wicket.

His penchant for prolific scoring was obvious when he made 138 against Mumbai and 306 not out (540 minutes, 516 balls, 36 fours), a national record, versus Baroda in the West Zone Under-14 tournament in 2000-2001.

He made a habit of scoring big hundreds, double and triple centuries in first-class cricket.

"Pujara was always a high-scoring batsman. He used to open and bowl leg-spin for our school," recalls his sports teacher Rajesh Shingala at the Rameshbhai Chhaya School, Rajkot.

"Even in those early years, he gave the impression of being very committed and dedicated, taking every match seriously, wanting to bat on and on."

"In 2005, when we became Gujarat champions in the tough Hill Shield tournament," remebers Shingala, "he scored four centuries in five matches."

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Image: Chintu Pujara in action, as a child
Photographs: Courtesy: Haresh Pandya

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'He's very, very, self-disciplined'

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Besides being an "outstanding cricketer," Chintu Pujara was a "bright student," recalls the school principal Swati Pandya.

"He was very intelligent and his understanding and memory were very sharp. Despite his cricketing engagements he was a fairly punctual student and very, very, self-disciplined," she adds.

Pujara aspires to be a graduate though his gruelling cricket schedule leaves him little time to pursue studies.

He is a voracious reader, both at home and on tour, prefering biographies and autobiographies of great personalities.

For one so young, Pujara is extremely religious. He believes in God, performs puja, meditates and lives a simple life despite being a celebrity now. He is said to feel uncomfortable at parties.

In spite of being their only child, Chintu was not pampered by his middle-class parents. While his father taught him the ABC of cricket, his mother, the late Reena, inculcated the qualities needed to be a good human being.

She succumbed to cancer in October 2005 when Chintu was returning from Bhavnagar, 150 km from Rajkot, after playing a match.

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Image: He was very intelligent and his understanding and memory were very sharp, recalls his school principal Swati Pandya
Photographs: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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'Spirituality helped him become a better cricketer and person'

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"My mother had more confidence in my ability. She always wanted me to work hard to play for India," remembers Chintu.

"She had made me promise that I would fulfill her wish. She would have been very happy seeing me represent India."

"Chintu was very close to his mother. I've contributed only 5 percent while she contributed 95 percent to his development," says his father Arvind Pujara.

"I've taught him just the technical side of cricket. She taught him everything about life."

"She always ensured that Chintu went to bed at 9 pm, got up early in the morning, did his puja, ate healthy food, never missed his coconut water after strenuous practice, did not fall into bad habits or kept wrong company and, importantly, struck a right balance between his cricket and studies," adds his proud father.

"As a child he was very fond of video games. But my wife would allow him to play them only if he performed puja for 10 minutes. I would often tell her not to force him. But she would counter my argument saying spirituality would help him become a better cricketer and person. How right she was!"

"I think spirituality and meditation has instilled in Chintu balance of mind, concentration, confidence, self-discipline and work ethic, which have stood him in good stead as a batsman."

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Image: Cheteshwar Pujara with his father Arvind Pujara
Photographs: Courtesy: Haresh Pandya

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'You've got to win matches for the country now'

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The Pujaras are followers of spiritual guru Hariprasadji Maharaj who lives in the erstwhile princely state of Gondal near Rajkot.

"Hariprasadji Maharaj has truly blessed Chintu since his birth. He named him Cheteshwar, which means Lord of the Soul," reveals his father.

"We often visit him and seek his blessings. Whenever Chintu is in Rajkot, he makes it a point to visit him."

"Even when he is away, he speaks to Hariprasadji Maharaj on the phone at least twice a week. Chintu's attachment to his guru is next only to his mother."

Arvind Pujara has always insisted on discipline, punctuality and sincerity, both as father and coach, and his son has seldom disappointed him.

"God has given you a special gift with which you make millions of people happy. They love to see you bat. They want to see your shots," is the father's message for his illustrious son.

"You've got to win matches for the country now. You have to show more commitment, hard work and further improve your game," adds Arvind Pujara.

"Never rest on your laurels and always work hard to achieve more for your country."


Image: Cheteshwar Pujara's father believes that spiritual guru Hariprasadji Maharaj has truly blessed his son since his birth
Photographs: Courtesy: Haresh Pandya

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