I competed against Cheteshwar Pujara for the first time at the Buchi Babu Invitational Tournament in 2008–2009. Despite my five wickets, he scored a hundred runs.
The first thing that stood me about him was how quickly he moved. He would come out and approach the pitch of the ball the instant you tossed it up a little. He wouldn’t attempt an air strike. He would still smash it along the ground, but furiously, if he wanted to make runs. One of the best players in playing percentages against spin is Puji.
I’ve known him for years, and I’ve come to realise that his game is only a reflection of who he is. And he has a stubborn personality. You simply can’t prevail in a debate with him. Never does he give in. Ash, you know you are not going to win, the people around you keep saying as they attempt to lure you into conflicts because I want to see his obstinate side.
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“You have as long as you want to strike me. Next, I’ll fight back.
It’s Pujara’s way, and it works, so it’s not a lack of intent.
M Vijay, who I consider to be India’s finest opener outside of Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag, and Puji share the trait of not receiving enough praise. They also engaged in some of the funniest disputes. They used to play out the new ball in Test cricket, which was the most challenging task. Testing situations are something we frequently encounter when travelling overseas, therefore it is only natural for certain idiosyncrasies to arise from that sort of collaboration.
They may debate the call for the duration of the session break even though Puji wouldn’t have picked it up. When Vijay would try to get the support of others, Puji would remain steadfast and assert, “There was no run.” Puji won’t alter his viewpoint no matter how many witnesses, pieces of proof, or lawyers you provide. He also doesn’t lose patience throughout these arguments.
Pat Cummins throws excellent ball after good ball, adjusting his angles and attempting bouncers and sucker balls, but Puji only responds with a leave or a lifeless defence. Actually, I can’t remember. When I first saw Puji, I thought his defence was excellent, but due to his tenacity, the best of the attacks have been successfully thwarted by his defence.
Pujara: “Playing an inspirational inning is the most fulfilling feeling in the world.”
Most batters change their approach when they succeed or remove certain components when they fail, but Puji continues to rely on his strategy. You are unable to persuade him to change. With Shankar Basu, our prior teacher, I used to call him Mirugam, the beast—the beast. Puji concentrates solely on batting, just like a predator is single-mindedly focused on its prey.
I attempted to convince Mirugam to broaden his game, but I lost that debate. He could have been a great one-day batter, in my opinion. In the middle innings, he possessed the innate ability to rotate the strike.
I felt confident in his understanding given everything he has learned over the years. Although he may have been a more powerful batter, I can also appreciate his difficulties. I can understand why it is difficult for him to deviate from what he knows the best given that he has experienced two career-threatening injuries and has been in and out of the only format in which he competes.
Especially in light of the fact that between 2012 and 2017, his knowledge made him a batter that spinners found tough to bowl to. He might exit if you gave it a small shove, but he would never lose the flight. He would go back and smash you through the off side if you bowled just a little bit flat.
Puji’s runs during this time had an air of inevitable expectation. Even at the SSC’s green top in 2015. I I was disappointed for him since I thought highly of him and he missed the first two Tests. He had also performed admirably in Australia. I said to Basu, “The Mirugam is hungry and he will feast,” as soon as we realised he would be playing the series-deciding game. The fact that Puji would score 100 points in that game was written all over it. He played in the game specifically to get that hundred points.