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The story behind the Saha-Pujara grind

Cheteshwar Pujara on what went into the making of a Ranchi epic

Cheteshwar Pujara batted 672 minutes and for 525 balls, the longest by an Indian batsman in a Test. For two whole days Ranchi witnessed a grind, the kind of grind that took you back in time wherein batsmen would toil bowlers down, thrive on weakness, go through mental shifts and in the end, stand tall.

Pujara rolled back memories of that grind and notched up his third double ton, second against Australia but the one he rates the most. “This is probably one of my best double hundreds,” Pujara said. “It was a tough inning. I wasn’t having a good time in the initial part of the innings and it was difficult to get runs. Once I got set, things became easier. As the innings progressed it became easy. I had to play a patient innings. There was a time when I had to completely close out certain shots. In terms of difficulty levels, this double ton means a lot to me.”

202 in Ranchi, yes, but Pujara believed the 92 in the second Test in Bengaluru had a great role behind this epic double century. “The 92 I scored in the Bengaluru Test was very crucial because that innings made me realize that I had to work on a few things. It helped me prepare even better for this Test match. I had my game plans set for this Test and things worked for me. The victory at Bengaluru meant a lot to us and instilled in us the confidence that we had a chance of winning the series. That innings and victory kept me in good stead for Ranchi.”

It was Pujara of the traditional mould, which came with its own set of challenges right from the moment he walked in to bat. Bouncers were dealt with precision, spin was approached with good feet and the bad balls had the Puajra flourish written all over it. It was a challenge that Pujara was no stranger to. “Day 3 was tough. I had to restrict myself and couldn’t play all my shots because we lost a lot of wickets. Concentration levels had to be high and it was important to have self-confidence. I think it is during times like these that experience matters a lot. I have played a lot of domestic cricket and scored big runs under similar situations. This Test, it was no different.”

Giving him good company for 199 runs and 317 minutes was Wriddhiman Saha who himself brought up his 3rd Test ton. Pujara gave a sneak peek into the mammoth run-stand. “Once Saha came in we had a good chat about the way forward. He was really crucial. The focus was mainly on strike rotating and targeting certain bowlers. He got his confidence today and played his shots fluently. There was one stage when I told him that he could carry on with his natural game, which he did. He is someone who gets big runs if he stays on the wicket.

“He has been batting well and there have been times when he has rescued the team from difficult situations. I hope he continues the way he has been batting. I would like to congratulate him and thank him for supporting me throughout our partnership.”

What makes the partnership even more noteworthy is the fact that it came under challenging conditions physically. Anand Date, strength and conditioning coach of the team made some interesting points here.

“It was energy sapping for both the players. It is not just because they batted for an entire day but also because both players were on the field in difficult fielding positions. One, a wicket-keeper and the other one was always in close-in catching positions.

“One might think that this doesn’t require them to run a lot, but they get into a hip flex position (sitting position) a lot for long periods of time. That coupled with the hardness of this ground makes it tricky for them for long periods of time.”

What kept them going through the marathon stand? Energy drinks, proper health monitoring during breaks and right amount of nutrition. “An important thing that we had to consider was their recovery,” Date said. “We had to make sure that they got good sleep and nutrition – two important aspects of recovery after a day’s play. The tick marks on the ice baths and pool sessions were also vital. Ensuring lower body mobility was also on top of our list. Energy drinks, ingesting carbohydrates and proteins at the right amount and right time was necessary immediately after the end of day’s play when the duo was on the field. Fortunately, the weather helped us a bit today and we could maintain hydration levels, which was important.”

Date continued, “We have special energy hydration drinks. It consists of the right amount of minerals that include calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium. These four minerals play an important role in the functioning of the muscles. If any of these minerals go down because of sweat, you are bound to get cramps.

“We made sure that Saha and Pujara got the right amount of minerals during lunch and tea breaks. Food had to be light, which allowed them to continue with their innings. They had a light lunch with some dal, rice and curd. The kind of food that can digest easily and doesn’t keep them heavy on their tummy and at the same time gave them an opportunity to continue their intense energy levels. They fared brilliantly,” Date concluded.

When Pujara and Saha were collecting runs over after over and session after session, comparisons were made to the epic Dravid-Laxman run fest at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2001. For Pujara though, that will remain the best partnership ever. “I think our partnership did bring back memories of the epic partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid back in 2001. But, I can never forget that partnership and I feel it is the best till date. I don’t think we were close to it but I am glad if this is being compared to that epic partnership. One thing that this partnership has done to both of us is that our confidence levels have gone up a notch higher. We believe if you can apply yourself, you can achieve big targets.” 

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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49* - Murali Vijay

India opener set to play Test match number 50, says he is eager to make it a memorable one

The sun is beating hard here at the JSCA international stadium complex as Ranchi gears up for its first ever Test match. For M Vijay, it will be Test match number 50 once he walks out to the field in the third Test against Australia. It is match day minus one and India as usual have an early morning practice session. Vijay has his sunnies on and makes his way to the center wicket first up. He is shadow practicing – a few pulls, some imaginary cover drives and that elegant leave. No bat in hand, still very classy.

“It is something I do before a match. Just gets me into a zone,” he says. “Couple of days before the game, I like to get a feel of things around me and get my game as close to my basics as I can,” he continues playing an imaginary leg glance. From Test match number 1 to number 50 (if he plays in Ranchi) Vijay believes he has come a long way.

“It is a great feeling to be honest. I never thought I would play so many Test matches for India,” Vijay gushes about his upcoming landmark Test. “It has been a great journey and I would like to thank the TNCA and Chemplast – my club team for the immense support throughout my journey so far. It has been great and have enjoyed every bit of it.

“It was a great moment when I got into the team. I never thought once that I didn’t belong here,” he begins to rewind. “Every moment has been priceless. I remember everything about my matches till date – right from the time I walked into the Indian dressing room to now and each moment has been close to me. It has just pushed me to do better each time I get an opportunity to represent my country. The journey has been amazing and I can’t put it across in words. I am living my dream.”

Vijay’s ‘dream’ has come with its own share of struggles, highs and lows. But, Vijay is unfazed about the past. It is the future that he wants to embark upon. Numbers and achievements aside, Vijay insists his immediate focus is on the third Test starting Thursday.

He is coming off a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the second Test in Bengaluru. He insists he has put in the hard yards and feeling completely fine ahead of the Ranchi Test. “I had a problem with my shoulder which needed some attending. Because of that I wasn’t able to play my natural game. My game plan and strokeplay wasn’t up to the mark. I discussed it with the team management and told them I didn’t want to play half fit. I felt, playing with a niggle and not being able to give it all to my team would be unfair to someone on the bench who is a hundred per cent fit and available to play. The management understood this and supported me. I have done my bit over the last ten days and I am hoping for a good show in the last two games.”

Vijay further says missing out on the Bengaluru Test proved to be a catalyst for him to work harder and get back into the side. “I was feeling bad on missing out on the second Test. The match was fantastic to watch and it has driven me more and pushed me harder to get into the team. I am ready for the next Test and I cannot wait to walk on the field and take guard.”

Coming off an injury layoff – be it for a short period is difficult. All the more reason for Vijay to take it slow in the build up to the Test match and gauge his own injury status. For that, Vijay underwent a few training drills. “I start with a few rounds of underarm throws, just to get a sense of my body as to where it is at that moment. With my shoulder not being in a great place, I wanted to warm-up my shoulders with a few underarm throws and then get into a long net session. The shoulder has come off well over the last couple of days. I have been batting well throughout this season and it is just about getting a good start and cash on it from there. Hopefully, I can give the team a good start tomorrow.”

Vijay was in full flow in the nets. He started off with a few throwdowns from Sanjay Bangar, then moved on to the pacers’ nets and then finished off with a round of spin. A few more underarm throws to warm down and a good lap of the ground later, he gave a thumb up to the change room. “Your first Test or your 50th, nothing changes. I am hoping for a good show in this Test match and make it a memorable one,” he says making his way back to the dressing room. “It has been a great learning process for me as a person. I want to continue working hard and make my second half of the career a better one. I want to score a triple hundred, which I haven’t till date. Hopefully, I get one before I hang my boots.”

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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