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The story behind the Saha-Pujara grind

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

By Anand Subramaniam in
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.”