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Calm at the Chinnaswamy - Where it all began for Cheteshwar Pujara

India's Cheteshwar Pujara ducks a bouncer during the second day of the second cricket test match against South Africa at Kingsmead Stadium in Durban December 27, 2010

Madhav Thambisetty wrote this fascinating piece, back in 2010, when he watched Pujara make his debut in Bangalore against the Australians. He writes about the experience of watching the cricket at the Chinnaswamy and a fine debut innings, amidst the backdrop of a particularly harrowing time for himself, as a first time parent travelling to India from the US.

Advaith was redefining the concept of sleeping like a baby. On his first visit with us to meet two sets of his grandparents in India, he was not taking kindly to the enormous difference in the time zones of Silver Spring in suburban Washington, DC and Sanjaynagar in Bangalore. While he had done rather well on the 15-hour flight to Doha, reserving his considerable infant charms for the pretty stewardess and good naturedly trying to scalp the passenger in front of him, it was beginning to be an ordeal to get him to sleep for any length of time in my parent’s home in India. He would nap just long enough to begin a complicated high-energy routine of playing fetch, peek-a-boo, watch-me-fling-myself-off-the-bed and other feats carefully designed to inflict increasing degrees of self harm, right around midnight. Feeding him was an altogether different challenge and meal times invariably culminated in him plastering a gooey mix of mashed rice and daal, baby formula and milk all over himself, his parents and any well-meaning onlookers that stopped to sympathise and proffer unsolicited advice.  This was not proving to be the relaxing vacation we had hoped for after an arduous first year as new parents. Our own anxieties about making the trip to India with the baby had resulted in numerous pre-travel doctor’s appointments for an assortment of immunisations, research on various tropical diseases that were currently doing the rounds in India, packing numerous varieties of bug repellants, boxes of sterilized baby food, anti-malaria medications and contact details of paediatricians recommended by friends who had made the journey and survived to tell the tale. Adding to the stress was a hectic schedule to visit various relatives and introduce Advaith to a growing brood of his cousins in India.  The end result was beginning to be a potent formula for frayed nerves.

I had until then only followed the second test in Bangalore through brief and distracted glances at the headlines in the newspaper. The draw that seemed likely with two first innings scores of 400 plus had given way to the possibility of a result by the end of the fourth day, and with talk of India chasing down a total on a fifth day wicket, I found myself idly contemplating a dad’s day out, sans-baby. The idea seemed to go down surprisingly well with the missus and while this did not seem a particularly ringing endorsement of my utility as a parent, I grabbed the chance and found myself in an autorickshaw on the morning of the fifth day, heading to the Chinnaswamy stadium. The crowds had started to swell outside for tickets and even at 8 AM on a Wednesday, there was a generous mix of youngsters clearly playing hooky from school, office-types who had called in sick, execs with BlackBerrys valiantly pretending to work while making their way to the stands as well as a large posse of those that seemed contentedly unemployed and unashamedly happy to be where they were.  A ticket to the J-stand at the Chinnaswany costs 1500 rupees and gets you a seat in the corporate terrace above the pavilion and adjoining the press box. I sat down and watched the Aussies go through their practice routines including a brief period where Mike Hussey did his utmost to decapitate the gent feeding him throw downs from about 20 yards. Michael Clarke was practicing slip catches and seemed to be wearing anti-gravity shoes that propelled him effortlessly into the air to grab all that was edged. In the press box, I spied a scribe typing furiously on a laptop and on closer inspection, recognised Dileep Premachandran, a friend from my bygone youth in Calicut and unarguably one of the finest cricket writers around today. I had last seen Dileep more than 15 years ago, when we had nurtured a good-natured but extremely competitive rivalry in the local quizzing circuit. A guru of sporting trivia, World War history and all things English, I would have scarcely believed then that this baby-faced and soft-spoken engineer from Calicut would go on to be recognized for the beauty of his cricket prose rather than as a millionaire CEO of a software startup.

One hour into the Australian second innings, Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth had run through the last three wickets to leave India requiring a seemingly gettable 207 to win, although when Sehwag was caught behind in the third over, I started to tone down expectations of a happy ending. Looking over my shoulder, I glanced upon the perennially suited and booted Ravi Shastri dispensing wisdom to a starry-eyed lassie that appeared to be hanging on his every cliché. This was not the best of omens. The last time he was involved in a run chase against Australia was in Chennai in 1986 when his ill-advised single gave Maninder Singh the strike and resulted in a tied test. A small swarm of dragonflies followed the debutant Cheteshwar Pujara on his purposeful walk to the crease whereas I, along with 40,000 other Bangaloreans had expected Dravid to emerge at number three to begin a typically slow and attritional recovery.  A couple of overs later, I had feasted my eyes on two gorgeous cover drives Pujara played off Johnson and Hilfenhaus. Facing Hauritz for the first time, he skipped down the track to drive him handsomely on both sides of the wicket and there was the unmistakable feeling that this was not going to be a typical Indian fourth innings.

Lunch was a sumptuous affair with an open bar and served by an extremely attentive staff. The corporate box leads to a terrace, where, sipping a beer and looking upon a distinctive Bangalore skyline, the crisp October air seemed to suggest for the first time in a long while, that all was right with the world. Pujara brought up a brisk post-prandial fifty and when he played the deftest of late cuts off Hauritz, one could just imagine Gundappa Vishwanath approving admiringly. A perfect fairy tale would have been a debut hundred, but it was not to be and the nearly full house gave the youngster a standing ovation when he trudged off dejectedly after a princely innings of 72, leaving India just 60 runs adrift. Rahul Dravid joined Sachin to knock off the remaining runs with effortless ease and when they came, the entire stadium stood as one man to celebrate.

This had been a unique experience for me. I had watched an efficient and uncharacteristically calm Indian chase, led by a youngster who seemed to belong to the big stage and was completely unfazed by the magnitude of the occasion or the burden of expectation. Watching Dhoni hand over the Border-Gavaskar trophy to a beaming Pujara will be an endearing memory for me and one that I will savour for a long time. I made my way back and upon reaching home, saw dragonflies buzzing over the garden catching the last bright rays of an autumn sunlight in their wings. Advaith was fast asleep in his grandmother’s arms. He was sleeping like a baby.

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