Dear Cheteshwar Pujara,
It’s been a while since the Indian Test team has managed to pile up something significant. Most of the time, it has been a mad slide into madness, with batters falling left and right, reducing the side down to an individual finesse, thereby marring the side’s ability to post something that is ginormous in nature.
Now, ideally for the scores to be massive, one needs the number three of a side to fire and you were the number three for us, rather the most reliable one since Rahul Dravid stepped down from the mantle. In fact, you emerged as someone on whom the nation could pin its hopes.
Fast forward the clock to the latter half of 2019 and there was something unexpected about you that we didn’t expect. Something monstrous maybe, that was invisible to us but somehow it was impacting you in a way that was definitely everything but pleasant.
You still continued being the rock only to witness a massive chink on the sides where a yorker on the off-stump or a drifting delivery on the lower part of the off-stump would force your hand in a way that neither you nor the nation wanted.
You, Cheteshwar Pujara, still kept on standing like a rock but somehow you seemed far less resolute than the one you were. India started tottering in the face of pressure and the amount of contribution was far less than expected. Middle-order collapses started getting much more frequent with a handful of lower middle-order batter hanging in desperately to salvage whatever they could.
When the hammer fell, India was desperately ferreting for someone who could play that number three role in a much more convincing manner and Hanuma Vihari did a pretty decent job against the Lankans even though bigger tests await.
You, Cheteshwar Pujara, travelled to distant shores, hoping desperately that you can find your form back. At least, I believe that there is still a good deal of cricket remaining in you. When you played that first innings, you were out for a paltry 6, making my worst fears come true that what if they were right about you being finished?
Then came the follow-on and there was a mountain pinned on your shoulder when Tom Alsop was run out by Potts and the scores just read 145. You walked out in the middle with the ball moving left, right and center. One more slip-up and the world would have probably passed their final verdict.
Yet somehow, you managed to hang in, enduring the mad swing that would have left others rattled. The treacherous shores of Derby conjured the most monstrous incarnations of magic that one could and somehow the scenes of Harry Potter where the dementors in a Harry Potter movie flew amok felt less scary than facing the bowlers of Derby.
Once the initial ghosts started disappearing to your resolute belief, you started bringing out those gorgeous-looking strokes and hopes started appearing again. Those swift wrists felt like a blessing for Sussex where the cherry would be frequently condemned to the ropes.
That match-saving partnership between you and Haines showed the kind of steely mettle that one needs to salvage an innings and it was a sheer delight to watch you steer the innings in the face of unprecedented adversaries. That double-century wasn’t just a blistering knock but it was a symbol of hope and faith, a symbol of reliance and a symbol of rebirth that the Indians were desperately waiting for.
Maybe it’s too early to believe that this was everything that we wanted from you, but it is never too late to believe that you are far from over. It is just a start and there are lightyears to travel but then again there will always be hope and when it comes to Test cricket, there will always be hope for the next Rahul Dravid or the first Cheteshwar Pujara.
At least, I am not giving up on it, Cheteshwar Pujara, I am going to believe in you call it a day. Call me an old-school Test fan but it is not easy to hang in the middle and take everything that is being hurled at you and I believe in you once again being the rock for India. This is just the start of a new chapter, Pujji. Make it big.
A crazy cricket fan