Cheteshwar Pujara has resumed training three times a week at his academy in Rajkot, along with a few Saurashtra team-mates. In a different world, he would’ve been in England, playing for Gloucestershire in the county championship. However, Covid-19 threatens to leave Pujara without competitive cricket for 10 months, with India’s next Test assignment scheduled for December in Australia.
“You have to start at some point and it is important,” Pujara told PTI. “If you are going to the ground, you are getting used to the sun and outdoor environment. Most players have been indoors for such a long time. Initially it is just about feeling the ball and as it is, there is plenty of time before cricket starts. I don’t see any series happening for the next two-three months, so one has to take things gradually.”
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Pujara’s last competitive outing was the Ranji Trophy final – where Saurashtra beat Bengal – in March. With Indian state governments easing lockdown restrictions, he has resumed training outdoors. Most other top India players continue to train indoors, mostly working on personal fitness even as the BCCI continues to deliberate on allowing players to return to training in a phased manner.
“If you are mentally tough, you can take a long break comfortably,” Pujara said of the possibility of going 10 months without international cricket. “Test matches [the only international format Pujara plays] don’t happen frequently so one has to play domestic cricket. It was not such a big thing for me and to come back from it, I will be fresh and more eager to play. The mental challenge is not an issue for me.”
Having returned to training, Pujara is currently batting for 20-25 minutes a session three times a week. He hopes to gradually increase the intensity. “Once you are outdoors it is a different feeling altogether,” he said. “Training here is obviously not the same as you get in a team environment but at least you are doing something to get yourself going.
“Your body will start moving a bit once you have a routine. As a cricketer, it is important to start whenever possible and adhere to the government guidelines [on social distancing] at the same time. Obviously, it feels a little different when you are holding a bat after a long time but because I worked on my fitness, it is helping now that I am playing again.”
Pujara chose to focus on the positives from the forced break instead of being frustrated. “Every cricketer deals with situations differently. Mentally, some people do get frustrated but I just took it as a break,” he said. “I never felt that [I lost my edge] because I have made comebacks after longer breaks [due to injury]. The comeback you make from an injury is much tougher than a situation like this when I was not injured.
“The first week [of training] is tough. After a week you are back to normal, because you have played this game for such a long time, experience matters a lot. Nobody knows what the situation will be three-four months down the line, when the next series will be held. The next few months are about preparation and getting back into the game. It is too far to think about the next series.”