The Slow-Motion Charm of Cheteshwar Pujara

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The Slow-Motion Charm of Cheteshwar Pujara

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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heteshwar Pujara is beaten. His feet are stone. The first ball to him is full, quick, furiously shaping away. He jabs. He leaves the next few deliveries. Mitchell Starc grins. He knows what’s playing on Pujara’s mind. It’s Virat Kohli’s voice: “You can’t be in the zone of not having intent and see off 35-40 overs.” Those were the captain’s words after India lost the Cape Town Test to South Africa in the first week of 2018. “You can’t just stand there and take whatever is coming your way.” And so, for the next 35-40 overs, on a warm Adelaide morning, Pujara did just that. He stood there and took whatever came his way. He dabbed, left, watched, waited, blocked with that problematic front-foot trigger shuffle.

At one point, Pujara took 55 minutes to go from 11 runs to 12. In January, he had gone 80 minutes and 54 balls before he got off the mark. You could almost hear the group of travelling Indian journalists type “Pujara intent” into their laptop search engines to pull out the juicy old quotes. From Australia 2014-15. From West Indies 2016. From South Africa 2017-18. From as recently as August in Edgbaston this year. The Aussies know which one’s playing in Pujara’s head: “With Pujara, you get the impression of a player trying to survive.” Coach Ravi Shastri’s words, after dropping the No 3 ahead of the fourth Test on India’s last tour to Australia. “You can’t just wait for the bad ball to come along.”

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