Cheteshwar Pujara shows that being boring is bold, it needs a lifetime of dedication

By the end of this Border-Gavaskar series Cheteshwar Pujara would have faced close to 750 overs bowled by Australians. At Raipur in 2017, he faced a record 523 balls on way to his unbeaten 202. In the 2019 tour of Down Under, he negotiated 1258 balls over 4 Tests. It was during this series, a frustrated Nathan Lyon, in the middle of a long wicketless spell, had asked Pujara: “Don’t you get bored while batting?”

That ‘boring’ tag isn’t new for Pujara. In this world, there are two types of sports fans – there are those who want to be entertained and then there are the wiser ones who understand that a team’s first and foremost aim is to win. Pujara’s art caters to the latter kind.

In his 100 not out Test career, he has proved that his top priority is to pursue the larger dressing room goal of getting the better of their rivals and not be a show-boater. To achieve that spectacular end, if the means are unpopular and boring, so be it.

Pujara doesn’t fear the brickbats. He has made an effort to tweak his batting but he hasn’t changed the fundamentals of his batsmanship.

The India No. 3’s greatest achievement as a Test batsman is his Man of the Series performance in Indian cricket’s most elusive win – the first-ever series triumph in Australia in 2019.

He was the hero of the victory that took 71 years and 11 tours. The land of batting greats has over the years sent out its best to conquer Australia, but all had failed.

Pujara’s history-making 521 runs were the result of him facing 1258 balls. Even during that epic feat, there were long periods of meme-inspiring stone-walling, insults from close-in fielders and boos from the stands. Pujara, though, never got swayed by the noise around him.

In a 2018 Test against South Africa at the Wanderers, Pujara was up against South Africa’s deadly five-pronged pace attack. Vernon Philander’s first spell had 7 maidens with Pujara playing four of those. It was the game where he took 53 balls to open his account. He was once again the butt of jokes. On breaking the duck, Kohli asked him to raise the bat. Pujara smiled, he didn’t give-in to his skipper’s light-hearted coaxing. He was amused by the reaction of the crowd. Deep inside he must be laughing. Pardon them Lord, he would have thought, little do they know what it takes to face Philander on a lively track.

That day Pujara dug in deep, he stopped Philander, Man of the Match under similar conditions at Newlands in the first Test, from running through India’s top order. Pujara’s 50 and his vital partnership with Kohli would help India win the Test.

A couple of years later in 2021, he was again making the Australians bored of him. Before Rishabh Pant ran the dream anchor leg
at Brisbane and India breasted the tape, the stage for the famous Miracle at Gabba was set by Pujara’s essential ‘boring’ knock.

The scoreboard numbers – 56 from 211 balls – confirm the alleged lack of intent on paper. But in real life, on the pitch, the story was different.

Pujara exemplified intent like no one. He had remained loyal to the common goal of wins at any cost. At the end of the game he had a swollen finger and his torso was black and blue after taking 11 body blows from the Aussie quicks on the final day of the ‘greatest Test’. Once again he had played out those tough overs when the bowlers were fresh. To be boring, you need to be bold.

About his knock that day, he had said: “I mostly got hit from one end and that too against (Pat) Cummins. There was this crack on the pitch around the short- of-length spot from where the ball would just take off. Cummins has the skill to make the ball rear up from there and make it follow you. In case I took my hand up to defend it, there was a risk that I would glove the ball. Considering the match situation and how we couldn’t afford to lose wickets, I decided to let the ball hit my body,” he had said.

Pujara in real life too is a firm believer of processes and routines. He is a strict follower of a daily schedule that has designated timings for eating, playing and meditating. It’s said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. By doing the boring thing of showing up on time at gym, nets and yoga mat, Pujara has survived the dog-eat-dog world of international cricket.

In a New York Times article, Ting Zhang, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, highlights the importance of everyday things through his study. He said, “What we wanted to do was show that people underestimate the value of documenting the present, especially the mundane. We hire photographers for special occasions, but don’t really capture the rich day-to-day experiences that make up so much of our life.”

Pujara’s batting captures the same rich day-to-day experience. His defensive strokes remind of the batting drills that coaches at maidans across India ask their wards to follow every morning and evening.

Judging the line early, meeting the ball just below the head and hitting it with the full face of the bat, Pujara has trained to follow this routine all-day.

Spain’s highly-successful national football team of Xavi, Iniesta, Ramos, Torres, Villa too were often dissed for playing boring football. Yet, they stuck to their basics to enjoy unprecedented success.

Between 2008 to 2010 they won UEFA European Championship twice and FIFA World Cup once. But still the hard-to-please critics said that they weren’t a fun team to watch.

Spain’s tiki-taka style of play can be compared to cricket’s tuk-tuk batting mindset. It too is based on the most humble of football skills – passing. By moving the ball in triangles, Spain would keep possession of the ball to tire out the opponent. It’s a less hurried form of football that can suffocate the opposition team.

Pujara, for most of his career, has stuck to the old batting plan of giving the first two sessions to the rival game and going for runs in the third. Spain would kill teams with thousand passes, Pujara can eliminate rivals with a 1000 cuts.

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