Rajkot Test: Cheteshwar Pujara makes late mother proud on hometown debut

Updated: Nov 14, 2016, 10:12 IST | Ajit Bezbaruah |

Cheteshwar Pujara’s century versus England in Rajkot yesterday is a culmination of extended net sessions and devotion to God, which was instilled in him by mother Reenaben, who succumbed to cancer in 2005

Cheteshwar Pujara enroute his hundred in Rajkot yesterday. Pic/PTI

Emotions ran high as Cheteshwar Pujara walked out to bat on Day Three of the first India-England Test in Rajkot yesterday. Not that his Test debut was far less significant – against Australia at Bangalore in 2010 when realised his mother Reena’s dream of playing for India - but yesterday, batting in front of his own people, was extra special.

The icing on the cake was when he reached his ninth Test ton (124 off 206 balls, 17x4) which helped India to amass 319 for four in reply to England’s mammoth 537.

As Pujara was covered with glory through the achievement of scoring a century in his hometown’s debut Test, people who have followed his career closely couldn’t help thinking about the struggles he endured to reach where he has.

A three-year-old Cheteshwar Pujara 

Patience and tenacity, two of his strongest qualities have been instilled in him by his late mother. Spirituality is another important aspect, Pujara’s mother Reenaben stressed upon. Knowing fully well that he loved to play video games, she laid down a condition that he could do so only if he said a 30-minute prayer and then consumed prasad (an offering comprising fruits, nuts and milk). His father, Arvind, a former Ranji Trophy player from Saurashtra, would not be too pleased at this ‘blackmailing’ tactic of the Reenaben. But she stood firm, convinced that the power of prayer will make her Chintu, as he is fondly called at home, very successful one day. Today, Pujara’s daily prayers after the day’s play or sometimes before it, is a norm. Pujara has had to overcome the grief caused by his mother’s death due to cancer when he was just 17.

He has also had to deal with frequent injury setbacks, the biggest being when he suffered a major ligament tear in his right knee while playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL-4, an injury which required surgery in London.

Also, his father’s poor health for which he underwent a bypass surgery, All this has been coped with due to the mental strength he has derived from his daily prayers.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s mother performs a thread ceremony
Cheteshwar Pujara’s mother performs a thread ceremony 

“My mom taught me to be true to myself. ‘With honesty, you can achieve anything’, she would say. People talk about my discipline, determination and focus but these values were instilled in me by my mother early in life,” Cheteshwar once told this writer. “His mother always wanted Chintu to play Test cricket for India some day while I just wanted him to be a good cricketer. So I did whatever I could to make him a good cricketer,” said Arvind.

Exposure in Mumbai
Pujara grew up learning cricket from his father, but his game developed when he started playing in Mumbai at a young age. “Mumbai offers a different level of competition. The daily travel from one corner of the city to another to play cricket on different types of wickets and against different opposition is a good learning curve for any youngster,” said Pujara Sr, who would bring his son to Mumbai during the summer vacations, stay in a tiny rented accommodation arranged through some old friends.

“We used to sleep on the floor and eat out. It was like a vacation for me and my wife, and we enjoyed it. Chintu never had any issues over what he was eating or where he was sleeping. He was only focused on cricket and our aim was to give him the opportunity to play as many matches as possible.

“No doubt, I saw some talent in him but I’m his father. I was worried whether I was being biased, so I took him to Karsan Ghavri (former India cricketer). It was he who first told me that Chintu can be special if given the right kind exposure. Ghavri, along with Ravi Thakkar (former Mumbai Ranji Trophy spinner) helped me.

Pujara gets a prize during his school days
Pujara gets a prize during his school days

Club class
“Since Thakkar knew most clubs in Mumbai, Pujara started getting opportunities to play throughout the week. So, if he played six matches per week, at the end of the month, he’d have played 24 matches. If we stayed for two months, the number doubled. In Rajkot, he could have practised for hours, but cricket is only played out there in the middle,” explained the father.

Meanwhile, Reenaben would always pack his tiffin and come to the ground to watch her son play. She did so even when she was undergoing chemotherapy, but sadly, did not live to see him make it big in the game. Pujara made his Ranji Trophy debut for Saurashtra against Vidarbha in December 2005, a few months after his mother lost her battle with cancer.

I was hoping for a double century: Pujara

“It meant a lot to score a hundred here today,” a relieved Cheteshwar Pujara said after his ninth Test ton and his 209-run second wicket partnership with Murali Vijay helped India post 319 runs for four at close of play on Day Three of the first India-England Test here yesterday.

It wasn’t easy when he walked in at the fall of Gautam Gambhir’s wicket. “Yes, there were many nervous moments, but I told myself that I will only focus on the things which I must do on the field,” said the India No 3. Pujara innings was almost cut short by Zafar Ansari when his appeal for leg before, after a straighter one missed the bat and hit him on the back leg, was upheld by umpire Chris Gaffaney. It looked like a straight forward decision to the naked eye, but DRS saved him. “I thought it was a little high because it didn’t hit me on my front pad. Even Vijay felt that it was little high and then I was confident taking the review,” said Pujara.

He went into tea at 99, not the most comfortable situations to be in when one is looking for a breather, but his great attitude came shining through. “I was hoping to get a double hundred, so I told myself that it is not just about one run but 101 runs. I was a bit nervous going into the tea break one run short of my hundred, but my focus was to score more runs,” said Pujara.

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