Cheteshwar Pujara was taught cricketing discipline ever since he was a child. Playing in his neighbourhood in Rajkot, he was not allowed to play with a tennis ball because his father felt the softball bounced more than a cricket ball and batting against it would corrupt his footwork at a young age. There were other peculiar regulations his father had prescribed that he had to obey during his path to the top.
At that time Pujara didn't know it, but such preposterous conventions had enabled him to play with great obedience at the highest level. He had trained his mind on and off the field to be precise and error-free. But at international level and against two of the all-time great fast bowlers, it is difficult to be constantly in the groove.
On Monday at Trent Bridge, Pujara was testing his mind all the way along. He had resumed on his overnight score of 33. James Anderson and Stuart Broad tested his patience for an hour. He was beaten in the corridor of uncertainty a few times, but with each play and miss, he kept repelling the initial spells.
In his three outings thus far, Pujara had been the only Indian batsman that had not been caught behind the wicket. So he left the ball on merit and waited for the fast bowlers to bowl at his stumps before flicking them through the on-side. It was an old-fashioned grind, but this is what Pujara had been trained for since he was the 12-year-old boy that would bat for three hours on the dusty maidan of Rajkot.
Incredibly, he resisted every temptation to drive or square cut the ball. In his innings of 72, he only scored two runs through the off-side. It was repulsive, but that was Pujara's method or what he would describe as his strength. This was a player that despite averaging in excess of 50 in Test cricket was not guaranteed a place in playing XI. This was a player that must have developed insecurities and wondering if he fits into the scheme of a team built around aggression and fluent stroke makers. This was a player that had not crossed 50, in his previous six innings in Test cricket. In amidst all this, it could have been easy for him to go away and try a different method. But he persisted with the fundamentals and followed his own principles — let the bowler get you out.
After simply deflecting the fast bowlers from the line of his stumps for his three and half hour stay at the crease, Pujara feasted on the spinners hitting 38 from 69 balls from Adil Rashid and Joe Root. It was a classic example of knowing how to build an innings according to one's strength.
Many players in the past have tried to alter their own methods and fallen into the trap of digging a deeper hole for them. Pujara, however, has stuck to his style. Patience is the heart of his game and on Monday he showed why he is one of the best in the business at excelling at it. India need a player like him at No 3, especially on pitches that aid movement. He is not your classic modern day player that will hit his way out of trouble instead he loves to be in the trench. Slowly in a systematic way digging his way out and carving a sculpture. This is the way he was taught since he was a child and he rightly feels there is no way to deviate from it.
At the press conference, he stated, "You just need to trust your technique, your temperament and be confident about how you know to play in such condition. I was always confident although I didn't score too many runs in County cricket but I was playing on challenging pitches. I always felt that I was batting well especially in the nets, especially the way I was timing the ball. I was very confident that I was up for a big one. The way I batted in this innings, I felt that whatever I was working on in the nets, it came along."
Watching Pujara in the nets in Birmingham before the first Test gave an impression of a man that had completely lost confidence in his own faith. Gradually, via long nets sessions and making minor adjustments to his methods, he started to find some rhythm. He had also learned from his previous outings, he was taking an off-stump guard and there was no press forward like the other Indian batsmen. He kept his head still and left the ball perfectly.
It might seem boring, tiresome and exasperating but that is Pujara the batsman. He is a disciplinarian that loves a challenge and with fighting innings of 72, he has once against shown why he is still India's best No 3 in all conditions against any attack.