Chris Waters: Cool, calm and collected - Unflappable Pujara is throwback to bygone age

Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara raises his bat and helmet after scoring a century in Rajkot. Picture: AP/Rafiq Maqbool
Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara raises his bat and helmet after scoring a century in Rajkot. Picture: AP/Rafiq Maqbool
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WE like things simple and straightforward in Yorkshire.

When Cheteshwar Pujara had a spell as Yorkshire CCC’s overseas player at the start of last year, his first name caused his team-mates some problems.

TALENT: Cheteshwar Pujara hits out while with Yorkshire last year.

TALENT: Cheteshwar Pujara hits out while with Yorkshire last year.

After all, ‘Cheteshwar’ does not slip readily off the tongue, unless one hails from his native India.

So a nickname was deemed an urgent priority.

‘Puj’, perhaps, or possibly ‘Chets’?

No, that was still a little too complicated.

In a stroke of minor genius, it was decided to call the batsman ‘Steve’, a moniker that was somewhat easier to remember and one that Pujara took in his stride.

‘Steve’ played four Championship matches for the club, scoring 264 runs at an average of 52, as Yorkshire retained their four-day title.

After starting with a duck on debut at Worcester, he grew in stature and signed off with an unbeaten 133 against Hampshire at Headingley.

Just like his nickname in the Yorkshire dressing room, surely a contender for the finest devised in the annals of cricket, Pujara takes most things in his stride.

He certainly did yesterday, when he hit 124 to help India to 319-4 at stumps on day three in reply to England’s 537.

Nothing, indeed, seemed to faze him.

Not the fact that he was under pressure to perform at his home ground in the first Test match played at Rajkot.

Not the fact that his father, Arvind, a former first-class cricketer himself, was present to watch him play for India for the first time, along with a veritable army of family and friends.

Not even the fact that he was hit three times on the helmet by Chris Woakes – not a pleasant experience considering that the Warwickshire man was operating at speeds near 90mph.

Pujara simply dusted himself down and, having endured a nervous tea interval with 99 to his name, duly reached his ninth Test hundred.

Television cameras quickly panned to his father, who shook a swarm of congratulatory hands.

Like his son, Pujara senior, who played six first-class matches for Saurashtra, seems an unflappable fellow, with barely a flicker of emotion across his mustachioed face as the three-figure landmark loomed. He did, however, afford himself a wry smile when ‘Steve’ was reprieved on 86 by the Decision Review System for so long rejected by India, with replays showing that the ball from spinner Zafar Ansari was bouncing over the top of the stumps.

No doubt, too, there was a sigh of relief at Yorkshire CCC, where Pujara proved to be a popular figure.

He carried himself well in his time at the club, and, like most overseas players, had a refreshing air of humility about him.

Of late, the 28-year-old right-hander has been in purple form, responding well to being dropped from the national side for a while as the management wanted him to bat with greater intent.

His batting is a throwback to a bygone age, reflecting his calm and self-contained character, but the flowing drives and fast feet that he showed yesterday were clear evidence that he is making a conscious effort to keep the scoreboard moving.

Pujara went into the series on the back of a splendid performance in the recent three-match Test series at home to New Zealand, when he registered scores of 62, 78, 87, 4, 41 and 101 not out.

He had warmed up for that rubber with innings of 256 not out and 166 in the Duleep Trophy; he has always been a batsman who likes to “go big”, and he has three first-class triple centuries to his name.

No one had ‘gone big’ leading into day four of this Test, with neither Pujara nor Joe Root (124), Moeen Ali (117), Ben Stokes (128) and Murali Vijay (126) able to achieve a “daddy hundred”.

Yet five “baby hundreds” highlighted the batsman-friendly nature of a pitch which, although not quite designed to break a bowler’s heart, has shown no sign of setting a bowler’s pulse racing either.

Whether it does remains to be seen, but this was another hard-fought day of Test cricket in which India batted well after resuming on 63-0, and England - despite what the scoreboard might suggest - bowled well too.

They stuck at their task commendably, with Ben Stokes finally getting Pujara when he steered a tired-looking shot to Alastair Cook at wide slip.

There was a deserved wicket for Stuart Broad in his 100th Test - he would have had another had debutant Haseeb Hameed not dropped Vijay at cover on 66 - and some joy late in the day for Adil Rashid and Ansari, who removed Vijay and nightwatchman Amit Mishra courtesy of redeeming catches at short-leg by Hameed.

But the day belonged to Pujara, the hometown boy.

“Well batted, Steve,” as they say in Yorkshire.