|Cricket Player: Cheteshwar Pujara
His prodigious rungetting abilities and
classical style are leading selectors
and experts to talk of this wonder kid
as India’s third ‘Little Master’
Few batsmen score a triple century in their entire career. When somebody scores three in three weeks, it is hard not to notice, whatever the grade of cricket and whatever the opposition. Cheteshwar Pujara, the 20-year-old batting phenomenon from Saurashtra, has given a fine option to Indian selectors at a time when India’s batting stalwarts are on their way to retirement.
In fact, Pujara got his first triple ton when he was only 13, scoring 306 not out in an under-14 tournament against Baroda in 2001. Since then, he has done other things of note: he was Man of the Tournament at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup, aggregating 349 runs; he scored over 800 runs in the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy; and this season he has scored two triple centuries in the under-22 C.K. Nayadu Trophy — 386 against Maharashtra and 309 against Mumbai — and one in Ranji Trophy — 302 not out against Orissa. He has also got big hundreds against top domestic teams with international bowlers in their ranks — 189 against Punjab and 176 against Mumbai.
Indian selectors are already under immense public pressure to let loose the wonder kid in the international arena. National selection committee Chairman K. Srikkanth has acknowledged him as a great prospect.
Trained in the classical mould by his father and coach, Arvind, himself a former Saurashtra cricketer, Pujara’s life-changing break came when the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) hired him. Though he did not get a game in the tournament, he got an opportunity to share the dressing room with international stalwarts such as Ricky Ponting and Saurav Ganguly. “I listened, watched and learnt in the dressing room,” he says. The exposure to the hell-for-leather Twenty20 cricket helped him add gears to his batting. He says his hitting rate has improved considerably, which has allowed him to score big hundreds in quick time to set up wins for his teams. “Pujara has a great work ethic and he is a tremendous prospect,” says KKR Team Director Joy Bhattacharya.
Looking at his potential, Nike and Pepsi have already signed up Pujara, who is being marketed by Mindscapes Maestros, a firm allegedly backed by Indian cricket team captain M.S. Dhoni.
Indian cricket lovers are waiting to see whether Pujara can take his stupendous run-making ability to international cricket. In the past, many domestic cricket tigers have come a cropper at the highest level — Ashok Mankad, Brijesh Patel, Ashok Malhotra. “The pace and the skills of the international bowlers are quite different,” Pujara acknowledges, and he trains for hostile fast bowling using a bowling machine. “Also, I treat the games against strong teams such as Mumbai and Delhi as practice for the next level,” he says. His failure in both innings against Delhi in a recent Ranji match disappointed him, as well as his well wishers, hugely.
With Indian batsmen routinely doing well in home games against foreign teams, Pujara can hope for a break when India goes down under to New Zealand in March 2009. It will be best for him to prove himself in away international games first.